Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the comfort of curry and other reasons it's all in your head

As the holidays crash down on us with the same force as the economy, I have decided to declare December National Hangover Month in the UK. It seems everywhere people are complaining about the day-after-blues before heading out to their next “do” where they lusciously intend to partake in another lovely round of more of the same.

In my kitchen, there’s a lot going on: a lot of brainstorming, preparation, much chopping, a taste here, a spoonful there. I’m so full and Christmas is still a couple of days away…

Somehow, in my mini microcosm, there is a myth that I don’t indulge or succumb to the same weaknesses as others... People are forever telling me that they feel bad, that their bodies must be intolerant to some food or another, but that they can’t be bothered to figure it out.
“I don’t have your willpower” is what I hear most often.

I disagree. Mostly because when it comes to willpower, almost anything can make me lose control -- from roast chicken to chocolate cake – I’ve been known to eat myself silly on foods that are considered good, safe, allowed, like hummus or almonds or raspberries. Because as I have too often been reminded from personal experience:even so-called healthy foods transform into damaging ones when overeaten.

In the end it’s about what makes us feel good. And if something makes you feel bad enough, you’ll stop loving it as much. Do I miss bread? Oh God yes. Do I yearn for cheese? Mmmm -- the stinkier, the better. Am I willing to put up with being in bed for three days afterwards, my eyes swollen to the size of golf balls, my stomach cramping and unbearably hard, my head throbbing like a never-ending whiskey hangover?

Nothing is worth losing that much time over, not even the greatest of Stinking Bishops.

A few days ago, we went round to friends for tea. They had baked sweet, gorgeous walnut banana bread – a beautiful blond loaf of goodness that smelled divine and, judging from D’s three slices, tasted even better. (As I eat vicariously through him at times like these, three slices sound about right). Even though our friends apologized for not having baked something I could eat, and even though I honestly assured them that I expected nothing of the sort and that it was fine – which it really and truly was – by the time we got home, I was in the mood to indulge.

So we ordered curry.

I love curry.

Honestly, London has many faults, but it almost makes up for them with its curries. This specific place is South Indian, so most cooking is done with coconut rather than Ghee*. In my opinion, there’s nothing like the creamy, pungent spice of a great curry on a cold, dark night. I usually get mine with a paper dosha, a very thin, flat, savoury pancake made of rice flour. It sops up the curry sauce like paper towel does spilled milk. Though I haven’t yet perfected the left-handed mop as is customary in Kerala, with the help of a spoon, the combination of spicy coconut chutney and sambar, a lentil and vegetable side masala, are divine.

Since we returned from the wedding, I have put on one stone. A whole stone, fourteen pounds, almost six-and-a-half kilograms. Sure, there’s the fact that I ate a cupcake a day in New York, and then there’s the whole hypothyroid thing. But come on, a couple of weeks of baked goods and a little T4 slo-mo can’t possibly be that bad, can it? Still, it seems those extra bulges want to stay put. As the holidays approach, I have gone from acceptance to desperation and back again; with the hiccups of the purchase and sale of abodes kicking my comfort-eating mechanisms into high gear.

I have never dieted in my life. I have spent my entire life on a diet.

Both of those sentences are completely correct. In translation: while I have never followed any of the fads – Atkins, The Zone, etc – I don’t think I have ever put a bite of food in my mouth without attempting to calculate the calories and / or effect said morsel would have on the scales.

So what to do?

Last week, I figured out that the only ingredient I have added back since the wedding has been flour. Not the usual whole wheat versus white flour. In my life, it’s brown rice flour, chickpea flour, sometimes (rarely) corn flour – which is why I had been eating it every single day: since it wasn’t wheat, I had somehow decided that it didn’t count.

But I have discovered this week that flour is flour is flour. The way I did it was to remove it from my diet. Not forever, not even for a week. I did not eat flour for five days. Tuesday to Saturday. Just to see what would happen.

The change was remarkable.

I should be used to this by now, having banished and reinstated so many foods over the years. But I’m not, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Doing such a simple test is like taking a black pen to a clear, white board, and drawing an endless loop right smack in the middle, starting small and going bigger and bigger – the repercussions of one small decision reverberating into so many others -- or the opposite, going from large, loopy lines and ending up in a single, simple point.

Which is what this is: a single, very simple point.

Within about forty-eight hours of removing flour, I felt as if someone had stuck a pin in me, let out the bloat, like air from a balloon. The doughy feeling was gone, as was the sag in my face. I woke up in the morning with enough energy to do the basic yoga stretches that I had become too lazy to do over the past couple of months.

Again, I’m surprised at how surprised I am. But mostly, I’m surprised at how quickly I forgot.

In the past, this would have been cause to strictly remove all flour, dough, batter from my life forever. But not this time.

Last night, nothing could have warmed my belly, or comforted my aching soul as much as that curry. This morning, I’m feeling the weight of the paper dosha, heavy with aromatic herbs and coconut milk. The stretches didn’t happen when I woke up around eleven – an inconceivable hour when I’m at my usual energy levels.

I feel it in every part of me, from my fingers, which are bloated and stiff (of course the salt-content didn’t do me any favours), to my distended belly, to my cheeks and neck, slackened like my brain.

Does this mean I’ll never eat curry again, that the paper dosha will be relegated to my already overextended list of foods I don’t eat in an attempt to feel, look and live better?


Even with all the after-effects, it was still a wonderful meal. I felt happy and sated afterwards, and I enjoyed watching a movie with my wonderful husband. The truth is that although it didn’t help in the long run, the curry didn’t hurt so much either. I’m up and about today, and almost, if not fully functioning. And it served a whole other purpose, nourished many different parts of my being, parts that aren’t any less important than my grumbling belly.

Next time, however, I’ll go into it with more information, open eyes, ready to complain the next day even before I place my order.

How I love a good curry.

* Ghee is clarified butter so out of bounds.

Chicken Masala:
(serves 2 good eaters with leftovers)
* 1 T chicken masala (this is a mixture of herbs including chili, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, clove, mace and fenugreek. I brought half a kilo back with me from India)
* 1 T coconut butter
* coconut milk
* 3 small onions or 1 -2 large ones chopped coarsely
* 2 T sugar-free tomato sauce (preferably one that is comprised of just tomatoes)
* 1 t orange blossom water
* Small handful of raisins
* 3 tomatoes
* 2 chicken breasts, cut into roughly even chunks

In a pot, melt the coconut butter.
Once it is melted, add 1 T chicken masala mix (add more or less, depending on level of spice desired - this mixture is quite spicy)
When the spices start to rise to the surface of the hot oil, add the onions.
Lower the heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes (add a little coconut milk if needed). Then add the tomato sauce, the rest of the coconut milk and then the orange blossom water.
Raise the flame and bring to a boil.
Lower the flame to a simmer.
As the mixture is simmering, add the tomatoes and the raisins -- this is to taste: tomatoes help make the dish less spicy and raisins add a touch of sweetness.
Throw the chicken pieces in. Stir them in well and raise the heat a touch if necessary so the mixture is properly boiling again. The chicken should be ready within 10-12 minutes.
(would probably be great with a little chive yoghurt to counter the spice, but very much optional)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something For Everyone

I love Christmas, mostly, I think, because I didn’t grow up with it. I have no bad memories, no traumas of tedious neighbours with terrible carolling voices or trees catching fire. Christmas, for me, has no traditions that require upholding, no Things We Do despite the fact that everyone has outgrown them.

No, all of those sentiments in my life are reserved for the customs practiced by the “Chosen People,” of which I am one. The Jewish Holidays are numerous and filled to bursting with generations of baggage strapped to my back like the memory-mule I sometimes feel I am.

Passover, with the endless wait to eat cardboard-like “bread” (Matzo) and then, finally, the gritty dumplings in tasteless broth; Rosh Hashana with its fish-head staring at you to remind you to start the year at the front, not the back (as if we need reminding to start at the beginning!); Yom Kippur, the day we supposedly atone for our sins but which we instead spend dreaming of food.

For me, Christmas has none of that.

Though I did grow up in a Catholic country (Belgium), I was for the most part unaware of St Nick et al, other than the very basics that is - the white beard, etc. - which are hard to miss. I have no recollection of any of the things I have come to look forward to as a newly minted, Christmas-celebrating adult. Our little ten-block Jewish microcosm was instead inundated with potato pancakes, dreidels and songs about another miracle for the Jews (Superpower, 0, Poor Little Minority, 1 more). Hanukkah was better than Christmas, we were told each December, because at Hanukkah children received one present every night for eight days, while Christmas was only one.

Now that I have had a couple of decades to reflect on this, it has become apparent that, environmental and waste issues aside, while it is factually true that Hanukkah lasts longer, often one well-considered prezzie is so much more enjoyable than eight throwaway trinkets. D and I have been breaking our heads for weeks now about what to buy for our loved ones. The goal is quite straightforward: budget, appropriate, something they wouldn’t necessarily get for themselves but would like to if they had extra cash lying around. Because what’s the point of purchasing unwanted, superfluous crap? I have to admit, the whole process can a bit nerve-wracking.

A year ago, at the penultimate minute, it was decided that we would be hosting Christmas. The only thing we had done in advance was put up fairy lights (the English and their sparkly little bulbs - D goes mad for them). We ordered the very last goose the farmer had in stock, and bought our tree when there were only a few left. The ornaments came from the final reductions bowl at the tree place, fifty-cent snowmen scavenged and saved in the moments before Christmas truly descended and the country shut down.

D’s parents flew down to London. We cooked (of course), we stuffed stockings, we ate too much and drank great wine. We went to a musical on Boxing Day and made plans for how wonderful the coming year was going to be, how often we would be getting together - last year, a lot of our conversations were also focused on the wedding... At that point it still seemed miles away.

Now here we are again, the wedding has passed and we’re back to where we were at this time twelve months ago: preparing to stuff – birds, oversized socks, and ourselves – tear open gifts, profusely thank one another and revel in options like midnight mass and mulled wine.

For me, it’s all fun. None of it means much, no matter how hard I try to attach some kind of symbolism to it. It’s merely another excuse to all get together, whomever all is that day, week, occasion. But there are no potato latkes, no candles in our window – unless you count those horrible bloody fairy-lights. I am unfamiliar with the songs people sing, and, unlike in my heritage, there is no chocolate money to be made from spinning a four-sided-spinning-top. Christmas is completely void of history for me. Still, I go along with it; I allow myself to get swept up in the frenzy and the plans, the must-dos, must-haves, the must-remembers. It is all part of my life now; and what I have been too lazy to do in terms of my own heritage – celebrate the Jewish Holidays -- I instead do for my husband’s (how I love saying that word and mentally superimposing D’s head above it!).

Once upon a time, traditions, rituals, celebrations held much more meaning. Winter solstice marked the true beginning of hibernation season, while summer solstice indicated the time for crops and coming out of our caves had arrived. We lived by the seasons, and cornerstone moments were observed – the ascent into adulthood, the naming of newborns – by well-known, well-worn traditions, celebrations and rituals that marked a next phase or a big change. What have, too often, become little more than another excuse to spend money, were once filled with meanings that we have, by now, long-since forgotten.

While organizing the wedding, I came across so many of those: for example, the question of whether to splash out on a traditional wedding cake, is one that has caused many a tense moment between couples. Let’s, for now, forget that the mere mention of the word wedding is enough to add at least one zero to any price tag; how many of us actually know why a “REAL” wedding cake is tiered? Costing hundreds if not thousands, the difference between a regular cake and a wedding cake is usually little more than height-related. The reason, I discovered, is that way back when, the layering symbolized the happy couple’s wealth. Rich people would often have to climb ladders to get to the top of their cake, proof that they (or whomever had paid for the do) had no money concerns. A few years ago, a friend of mine on an extremely tight budget actually calculated that it would be at least one-third cheaper to purchase different sized cakes and stack them herself (not to mention that if you are the one making the icing, you’ll also be the one who gets to lick the bowl!). Relatively speaking, the wedding cake is often one of the major expenses. Still, so many couples go for it so they can be photographed slicing that first piece together, both newlywed hands on the same knife, feeding one another a misaimed glob, the icing deposited on their noses. While money may be a factor in the decision about whether the cake should have three tiers or seventeen, I’m pretty sure nobody thinks about it as an indication of prosperity anymore.

For the past four years, every September, I have announced that next year I will celebrate Rosh Hashana, I will fast for Yom Kippur. Every spring, I have regretted not having attended a Seder, dull as they can be. Hanukkah I can take or leave; it’s a children’s holiday and we don’t have any yet. Still, I remember the candles in the windowsills fondly, and hope to one day light my own, adding one every night, singing about the “big miracle that took place over there”, in Israel.

Instead, for the past four years, we have celebrated Christmas, and it has been a big deal. Every year has been different – we have been in Canada and Bristol, amidst snow-covered valleys and under pouring rain -- with a few, recurring threads reminding us that it’s Christmas again: a tree, lights, sales, presents, food, complaints about the cold, non-sarcastic mentions of Santa. Throughout December, we have agonized over what to get each member of the family, and which friends we should include on that list. We have sat in a hotel room watching D’s niece tearing open her two suitcases of prezzies, and woken up in my brother’s home to exchange gifts in our pyjamas. Last year, when I decided to start taking this crazy blogging adventure seriously, it was with a post about our first Christmas held at home.

But how do you create, recreate, instigate traditions?

D and I went through those questions before the wedding, and we continue to do so. There’s the Jewish customs versus the Scottish ones, the Latin and the English, the Shabbat dinners and the baptisms, the Hebrew songs and the eighties ballads. When discussing our options, we do our best to avoid the dramatic declarations -- “no child of mine…” or “not in my house!” D is better at holding back than I am. I blame the fear mentality of being born into a minority (and a historically persecuted one at that).

How do you create your own traditions when there are so many in existence already – some that you would like to incorporate, others that you would prefer to ignore? How do you decide which to keep and which to skip? How do you choose? How do you separate those you feel guilted into from those you actually desire?

D and I have learned that with us, it’s better to start small. He doesn’t like new things, and I’m obsessed with not getting stuck in old ones just because they’re old.

Food is a good middle ground for us: I cook, he critiques, I wash up, he dries. We take comfort in dishes that start out as meals and become symbols; new parts of the unspoken language two people create when they choose to mesh their lives; something for the two of us, and the new family we are creating. Sometimes it’s about giving in, other times we accept and support – with a look, an inside joke, dinner prepared just so.

Last Wednesday afternoon, the sound of his voice tipped me off about what I would be making that night.
“Sweet potato fries,” he sighed, when I handed him the plate, “I can’t think of anything I would rather put in my body right now.”
It had been a rough day amidst a cluster of especially taxing ones. The personal was heaped on to the professional, which was trying its damndest to stifle the inspirational. My baked sweet potato wedges, slow-roasted with fresh herbs offer more comfort than chocolate cake in these dark, wet months, and I have found myself making them more often than my ever-conscious calorie-counting self would normally permit. But right now, their benefits outweigh their status as high-starch - read: fattening and therefore better to avoid - vegetables. As roots, sweet potatoes ground us; their sweetness satisfies our cravings, and the warm, baked slices, are perfect to make us feel just a bit naughty, like children allowed French fries.
Sometimes there is nothing I can say to make things better. But it’s great to discover small gestures that can make a big difference, if only for the duration of dinner.

And then there are the accidental traditions, created like a great piece of improvisational theatre. A couple of Fridays ago, we were having some friends over for Shabbat dinner and I wanted them to get a proper taste of my food -- the kind that I eat -- which is so far removed from their customary fare. I made chickpea flatbreads. They came out wonderfully crunchy on the outside, warm and chewy in the centre, infused with rich, black olives, peppery fresh sage and pungent garlic. D pronounced them “Oh My God” delicious and I made sure there would be enough of them left over to really pamper him. Because he rarely indulges in pizza, I decided to recreate this favourite of his in my own, gluten-free way.

The thing about inventing new versions of beloved staples is that we have to accept that they will never be the same: different ingredients produce different results. With enough of an open mind, however, chickpea pizza night can be as delicious and feel as decadent as the versions we all grew up with.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly “Check the door, it’s dominoes!”, but judging from the silent man chewing next to me, shaking his head with his eyes closed, I think I did a decent job. I had mine, he had his – each pizza topped with ingredients as close to the ones we would have ordered. I would have wanted cheese and tomato; he loves pepperoni and cheese. Instead, he got Spanish chorizo and Camembert, I heaped thick fresh tomato with cashew "cheese" dill and lemon juice on one half, and chunky avocado on the other.

And so pizza night was born. For those days when we wish we didn’t have so many responsibilities on our shoulders, when we want to be more silly than adult, when things would be so much easier if they were about getting a bike for Christmas rather than mortgage payments.

Chickpea Flatbreads:

4 Finely chopped fresh sage leaves
10 Chilli black olives chopped into small pieces
+ 10 more olives, kept separate, chopped.
4 Cloves of fresh garlic minced

olive oil (1 – 2 tablespoons)

1 ½ cup chickpea flour
½ cup brown rice flour
salt to taste

The night before (if possible. This can also be done the same day, if time is short):
Mix the sage, olives and garlic. Immerse in barely enough olive oil to cover. Store overnight in a glass jar with a lid.

On the day itself:
Mix the flour in a large bowl.
Add salt to taste and enough water to start mixing it all together. Blend the olive, garlic, and sage into a paste and add to the flour along with the rest of the olives, chopped into little pieces. Keep adding water and kneading until you have a dough that doesn’t run or stick to your fingers.

Heat a pan until water spatters off the surface. (do not use oil)

I would recommend using a soup ladle to create more or less even shapes and sizes (I would like to stress the more or less part here).
After scooping one ladleful into the hot pan, flatten the batter to create even and thin bread.
Allow to cook until the mixture starts to dry up and the edges start to brown slightly (you can also test this by very carefully inserting a spatula underneath – it is starting to be ready once the bread does not fall apart and is easily flippable as one entity).
Flip the bread and cook on the other side. You will have to do this a few times until the outside is crunchy and lightly brown.

These breads become doughy and less pleasant when cold, so make sure to keep them warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

To make pizza with leftovers, layer the flatbreads with your choice of topping, and heat up in the oven as you would a pizza.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I have written two posts since my last one. Somehow, however, by the time I get round to posting them, they feel soooo last week.

By now, Obama has gone from “Yes We Can!” to “can he really?” though most everyone I speak to is still excited that – criticism and cynicism aside -- he will have a chance to give it a shot anyway.

Life is finally returning to some sort of normalcy. After the wedding had become a sort of catch-all, and by the time we came home in October, there was container parked out front with a long long long list of everything we could no longer put off.

But we did it. The end of the year was back to feeling relatively simple: finish up, polish up, get ready for 2009. Then we bought a house.

Wait, WHAT?

Well, we’re trying to. Nothing has been finalized yet so I won’t go into too many details, but yes, we took the leap into serious, four-bedroom (“for the kids”) homeownership.

Our last foray into the world of real estate ended with a woman who had voluntarily changed her human name to that of a reptile screaming down the phone that she was a “fucking peace-loving Buddhist who didn’t fucking judge anyone!”

(While hindsight has gifted me with a sense of humour about it all, I’m going to let dead lizards lie and focus on the present.)

Our current situation unfolded as follows: last week, D was engaged in his favourite form of procrastination, a little hobby I like to call real estate porn. I was sitting over at my desk rewriting a short story when he asked me to come look at a house. As he tends to engage in this perfectly harmless though potentially expensive pastime quite regularly, I have requested that he only show me homes he truly considers an option for us. (In my defence, I sometimes remind him of the time we went to see a house with an asking price about double what we could afford. D then spent the rest of the afternoon calculating how we could scrape the money together for a deposit. It went something like “if we sell our first three children and then you harvest all of your remaining eggs; if I ghost-write a few autobiographies by extremely rich, really dumb people…” While I really loved the house, I prefer a sane husband as well as intact ovaries.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our wonderful flat, but we’re busting out of it. Both D and I are also very much looking forward to the day we each have our own office, space, privacy -- at the moment, we share a tiny room behind the refrigerator.

Anyway… I was rewriting my short story when D called me over to look at a charming little house. We both liked the look of the place and it fell somewhat within our price-range. It did tick every box we had decided on in terms of what our deal-breakers were: there was outside space, an eat-in kitchen and enough bedrooms to fit us all (separate offices and future projected offspring included). Best of all, it was only three streets away and almost directly en route to our favourite neighbourhood hangout. D emailed the real estate agent and the next day, as the sun set behind the eternally grey London sky, we sauntered over …

Three days later our offer was accepted.

Now we’re dealing with mortgage brokers, real estate lawyers, selling and letting agents (for our flat), roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc. I think I’ve heard the phrase “the current market being what it is…” more often this week than “hello”.

Until this decision to consciously buy into our next step, D and I have calmly been assessing this past year and everything that has happened. I suspect that, like every year since we’ve been together, on December 31st we’ll look at each other and say “It’s been a year!”

Every year since we’ve been together (this year will make five), D and I have taken an afternoon to sit down and go over the coming year. We’ll talk about plans and agree on dates for holidays. We’ll decide where we want to go, professionally, individually, as a couple. It’s quite a fun way to pass an afternoon, all tangled up in projections and fantasies but once it’s done, we’ve forgotten about it and have gotten on with our lives.

Last Christmas, we shared our little tradition with a friend who, it turns out, does exactly the same. His reaction was way more enthusiastic than we had intended: “Isn’t it great,” he said, “when you set yourself a goal and then actually achieve it? I love that feeling of ticking things off my list.”
D and I looked at one another. We burst out laughing. Neither of us had thought of following through enough to tick anything off anywhere. They were ideas, things we bantered back and forth and then actually wrote or didn’t. Never had it occurred to us to actually keep track.

By August our friend had accomplished every goal he’d set for himself in 2008. My goal is ultimately still the same: make a living as a writer, be a great partner, don’t let life get too depressing. Other than that, in my life everything changes by the hour.

I truly wish I could dwell on this past year, and as this month progresses, I probably will. However, before I give myself over to reminiscing, there’s Christmas. For the first time, my mother will be with us as well as D’s parents. During the wedding, they referred to themselves as “the three bears.” I’m way too obsessed with the pressure of all of these firsts being memorable -- making sure our shared meals aren’t too hot or too cold; I need everything to be just right. Does that make me Goldilocks?

“What do you think?” I’ll ask D at any time of the day or night, “Should we have curry roast pumpkin or garlic kale?”
“I’m in the loo, sweetheart,” he’ll say from behind the closed door. “Can we talk about this later?”
I’ll count my in-breaths, turn on the television only to turn it back off again, I’ll type random ingredients like pomegranate molasses and mace into search engines, but soon enough I’ll be back at it with a hesitant “sweetheart…?”

Me (stirring a pot that I’ve been standing over for some indeterminate length of time):
“Sweetheart, can you try this?”

D (happily popping his head round the doorframe that separates our shared office from the kitchen): “SURE!”

I spoon a taste out of the pot, blow on it some: “careful, it’s hot.”

D (blowing a few times): “mmmm”

Me: “You haven’t tried it yet!”

D: “But it smells good”

Me (still holding the spoon): “are you gonna?”

D: “what?”

Me: “taste it!”

D opens his mouth and closes his eyes. He pulls back involuntarily when the spoon touches his lips.

D (breathing hard, his hand waving in front of his face): “Hoh-Hoh”

Me: “I told you it was hot.”

Then there is a whole rating system, another spider’s web of pitfalls and sticky bits. At fist I thought D was being dishonest, that he didn’t want to tell me how he really felt. Then I realized that he wasn’t being insincere, he was being British.

I find nuance impossible to read. I don’t do between the lines very well. Unfortunately for me, inflection is what this country was built on, and how it continues to thrive (although with the recession and all, maybe they’ll get the hint?)

In our house, food critique goes something like this:

D’s Determination: It’s good, sweetheart.
My Translation: could be much better, there’s something in there that doesn’t quite work for me.
Example: haphazard attempts at breads and baked sweets of various descriptions that, being gluten, dairy, yeast and sugar-free sometimes taste like the prototypical health food – the kind that gives good, healthy food a bad name.

D’s Determination: mmm, I like it!
My Translation: It’s fine, not spectacular. I probably wouldn’t finish an entire meal of this, but it’ll do.
Example: various kitchen sink soups where I used what I had, but what was available didn’t necessarily mesh.

D’s Determination: Sweetheart!
My Translation: I was expecting something different. This is much better than what I expected. It doesn’t look as good as it tastes which is a bit of a put-off and why I tried this slightly under duress.
Example: a sweet potato, kale and wakame mush that looked like green baby food but was, in fact, delicious.

D’s Determination: This is Great!
My Translation: I really like it, but people who don’t usually eat your kind of food, sweetheart, might not be so into this.
Example: raw chocolate balls – very chocolaty.

D’s Determination: “Oh My God!”
My Translation: This is great.
Example: the dough of last weeks’ chocolate-banana protein balls, Sunday night’s chicken curry.

Two exclamations to God in the space of one week… I should have known something was up.

It seems every time I blink, a whole part of my life has gone by. (Sidney Sheldon was definitely on to something!)

Blink – I’m in Thailand – Blink – I’ve gotten married – Blink – we’ve bought a house…

The house was one of those “Oh My God” moments – across the board, no translation necessary.

Blink –


Oh My God Chocolate Banana Globes
(I would call them "balls" although men, no matter what their age, giggle by which point the delectable aspect is all but lost)

-- 1 cup brown rice flakes
- Around 1 cup of almond or Brazil nut meal (I used the pulp leftover from making nut milk and it worked great)
-- 1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut / coconut flakes chopped
-- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
-- 100 grams chocolate (I chopped up a bar of 100% cacao -- the original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate)
-- 2 - 4 bananas to taste (I like things a little less sweet so I used 2)
-- 1/2 t vanilla extract
-- 1/4 cup hemp butter (almond butter can also be used)
-- 1/4 cup melted coconut butter
(I also added about 1/2 cup of ground gogi berries to the second batch, but that's definitely optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F

Use a dabble of the melted coconut oil to grease a pan

Mash all the ingredients together very very well with your hands (it's a really fun sensation. Children would enjoy participating as well, especially with the gloopiness of the bananas) -- have fun creating the dough.

Roll into little globes and set gently on the tray.

Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes (depending on the oven)

(Note: I think they would make excellent cookies as well. Just flatten -- shape and texture are a matter of taste)

Adapted from a recipe found on chocolate and zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Yeah, But Does It Do What It Says On The Tin?

Tomorrow is Election Day in Uncle Sam’s Land. Almost everyone I know has participated in Obama’s campaign in one way or another. People who had never voted before have worked the phones, they have committed to helping out on Election Day, they have emailed, blogged, spammed.

What is impressive to me is that someone has finally campaigned at US: the not-young-not-old, not-rich-not-poor, the educated-but-not-elitist, the aware-but-not-obsessed. Obama has woken us out of the long political naps we take because nobody cares about us anyway; he has reminded us of why we came, did, studied, of what we once wanted to achieve – whether we’re still there or whether we’ve moved on.

On a personal level, I am so happy that someone who, like me, was born in one place, raised in a couple of others, and has moved around a fair amount, can use that to his advantage in a country where they sometimes seem to scorn anyone who is “other”.

As we near the end of the campaign however, he has started lowering expectations, admitting in speeches that things won’t be easy. The “Yes We Can” has been turned into “we can, but give us time”.

It makes sense. This man is 100% human, and so his achievements will be as well. Unlike so many others in his business, he does not claim to be superhuman. He has not tried to position himself as a kind of modern-day king, privy to God’s ear and information in a way that common folks are not. Obama has admitted to flaws and accepted mistakes. He isn’t Louis XIV. He eats cake as well as dry bread. What a relief.

It’s been quite entertaining, in a vindictive kind of way, to see the other side’s ugly tactics ricocheting back in their faces. Nothing has stuck for long. None of their attempts to link Obama to Osama have worked, and The Weathermen story has made them look even more ridiculous.

Do I know a hell of a lot about American politics? Probably not as much as I should.
Would I be able to win a debate about it all? I wouldn’t put money on myself.

When it comes to the issues, I feel quite ignorant. I am a pretty broad-strokes voter in that I base my decision on things like abortion rights, gay marriage, health care and invasions of foreign countries on the basis of misinformation. In that sense, I’m as ignorant as any Republican: I don’t keep track of what congress is working on on a weekly or even yearly basis, I don’t even know the political intricacies of the very issues that I myself am interested in. I’m as much of a target for big PR campaigns as anyone. I want to be able to choose whether to give birth or not, I want a gay couple’s “I do” to legally mean as much as mine, I think we should all have access to a great education and be able to get sick without going broke. For me, that’s about as deep as it goes.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m voting from the gut; voting for someone whom I have been convinced can bring change in the few areas that will most immediately (and superficially) affect me – just like they want us to believe…

Does that mean I would be less likely to vote for a politician with less charisma?

In Israel, the very existence of the country is supposedly at stake, and so elections are usually much more dramatic, the views taken much more extreme: settle on other people’s land, or not; apartheid as a policy or not, etc.
Over there, “Who are you going to vote for?” is apparently a trick question. It is not as much a request for information as much as an opener for the imposition of the other person’s opinions. And, rest assured, in Israel everyone really does have a very strong opinion.
“You’re voting for Obama!?” a friend of my grandmother’s exclaimed in disgust, “that’s terrible.”
This was last year, during the primaries.
She shook her head, “no, you have to vote for Hillary. She’s a woman!”

To me, voting for a candidate because she’s a woman (or a democrat or a black man) is like marrying a man because he’s Jewish. It doesn’t work for me on any count.

In college, I campaigned for so many people… Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak (by accident), Yosi Beilin, Uzi Even (the first openly gay MK), and a smattering of other centrist and left-wing politicians. I was also very active in the left-wing student group at my university. I even ran as a representative of the English department – twice.

When I think about it, however, unlike my friends who found candidates that they could blindly follow, I never believed in one person – not on a student-level and definitely not on a national level (although at one given point, Peres did come relatively close). Still I campaigned for this cardboard cut-out, or that, handing out stickers, urging people to use our democratic rights, attending rallies, making phone calls, and even physically accompanying people to the voting booths.

Politicians are like philosophies or diets: I admire anyone who finds one specific one to believe in. My comfort zone lies somewhere in the middle, taking a little bit from many different ideas, research, promises.

The main reason I campaigned wasn’t for the greater good, or because I thought the person whose picture was on my badge would really make that much of an impact… In all honesty, there is little in my life that has come remotely close to the rush I got when I was actively participating in political campaigns.

The feeling of power between your fingers as you pore over the names and personal information of thousands of strangers, the manic months and weeks of planning, the tingling energy that is almost visible as the election nears, the hundreds of people you get to meet and chat to; and then finally that last push, the actual election day that goes by in a blur of emergencies, live-or-die moments, hours of feeling like the fate of the world is in your hands. It is easy to give up personal space, time, interests for the sake of the bigger picture, especially when you feel there isn’t all that much to give up in the first place.

I campaigned because I was lonely, because I was lost and scared and needed recognition and attention but had no idea how to go about getting any. I supported candidates and their agendas because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my own life. I gave myself fully to getting others elected so I would have to figure out where I was going, who I was, what was important to me.

Being part of something bigger than oneself is a great feeling.

And that is where I think Obama has done such a great job: instead of capitalizing on the usual “us versus them”, he has made it about giving power back to the individual. Obama has made his supporters feel that we actually have some modicum of control over our destiny. He has made it seem as if his campaign isn’t about him but rather each one of us. For the first time in a long time – for some of us, possibly in our lives – we feel heard, or at least as if someone would listen if we needed them.

Elections are a two-way street, a ready-made community that accepts all applicants, as long as they can pay their dues and vote. Campaigners need attention, as do the people they court. When I was politically active, I had a full-time group of friends, people with common interests, who were available to me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We lamented the fate of our doomed ideals together and cried on each other’s shoulders when our civilian, uninterested boyfriends dumped us for girls who cared more about rubbing their shoulders than the important stuff.

But our egos didn’t ever suffer for long. We knocked on hundreds of doors; and for every one slammed in our faces, we met two or three who invited us in, who wanted to be our friend – because we were important people fulfilling an important task.

For someone like me who is naturally friendly, it was doubly satisfying as I quickly figured out my recipe for swaying people. Mix a dollop of goodwill with equal amounts of charm and true belief in one issue or another, serve in people’s faces with self-confidence and a smile. People want to believe that change is possible, and even the biggest cynic wants to be liked.

Some people love to be courted, while others prefer to be left alone. There are those who vote on big issues and those who are just happy to get out of the house.

People use elections for all sorts of reasons.

With regards to tomorrow… My fingers are crossed, my breath is bated.

My only hope is that we get what we’re voting for…


Too often, especially in vegan and raw food restaurants, dishes like “pasta” and “cheese” are in fact very different from what one would normally expect. I can only assume that this is done in order to put non-converts at ease.
However, if I’m expecting little pockets of cooked flour when I order the ravioli and what I receive is thinly sliced squash pockets filled with nut paste instead, there’s a good chance I may be slightly disappointed.

Having said that, what do you call something that looks like cheese, tastes cheese-like, but isn’t cheese? “Goop” doesn’t quite wet the palate.

This past Saturday was World Vegan Day. To celebrate, I made a vegan dinner. It didn’t turn out fabulous, for a myriad of reasons, but one standout little side was the cashew “cheese”. It was flavourful, creamy, pronounced delicious even by those who eat the real thing.

Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for the recipe. There are so many different versions of it online but I decided to keep it simple and based myself on the recipe I found at maybevegan.blogspot.com

4-5 cloves of garlic
juice of 1 lemon
2 t sea salt
1 C water (I added a smidgen more)
3 C raw cashew (pieces)

Mince the garlic or crush in a press
Add the remaining ingredients in the order listed and blend until smooth
(You want the mixture to be thick and creamy)

I’m not sure what to call the result, except absolutely delicious.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's Next?

It’s snowing in London. We heard shrieks from the street and when I turned my head, I couldn’t believe the white flurries right outside the window. Real snow, like in the movies, or Connecticut. Not London. London is grey and damp and … well, not as pretty as snow. But there it is, like a fat girl on her wedding day.

I’m in a daze and funk of feeling like a big old tub of lard, but somehow this time I seem to have retained a sense of humour – more or less – with uber-drama kind of kept as the sidedish that it was meant to be. Besides, you can’t exactly eat ice cream, cupcakes and bacon for a month and expect to look like you did on your wedding day, can you? Oh, and did I mention the bottles of deliciously yummy wine?

There is one in particular that has captured my heart these days. D and I would share a bottle of it from time to time in the final months of planning. I hadn’t realized just how many until we walked into the restaurant a couple of weeks ago and the manager jumped at me with an enthusiastic “so how did it go???”

It is called The White, made by The John Forrest Collection. Simple, Elegant, Kiwi, a perfect blend of eight or nine different grapes that fit together like Tetris blocks in the early nineties. Viognier, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay,
Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc – like children, the grapes exuberantly wait until the teacher – in this case the palate – calls on them. Each will get their turn.

The planning is now over and although we refuse to stop celebrating, the party’s officially done. It’s time to return to normal life, whatever that is, was, has been, will be. What that means for a surprising amount of people around us is that they now feel it is appropriate to ask about the next stage: children. The more direct questions are are often less inquisitive and more demanding.
“Why are you writing to me?” one guy’s email bounced back at me within four minutes of my having hit send, “you should be busy making babies with your husband!”
Mostly, however, people just want to know whether we want a family, the “when” remaining between us, unspoken but no less present.

A few months before the wedding, we had a couple of friends over for Shabbath dinner. The wife, already showing, asked me whether I was ever planning to “do” anything. I was insulted by her question for a few reasons: First and foremost because I resent the assumption that I sit and watch sitcoms all day just because I don’t have a “proper” job (another charmer), and secondly, because although she is very much in a similar situation to mine – career-wise at least – she seemed to have, from her perspective, finally found, in her impending motherhood, what she was doing to “do”.

When you’re single, they want to know why you haven’t found someone – as if there is no way to be happy on your own. When you meet someone nice, they start clucking about rings and The One. Then, you get engaged and everyone just keeps offering their “help” by asking whether you’re nervous yet, or worse, telling you that you should be. Then – finally – comes the wedding. Beautiful, blissful, you wish you could float on that cloud for the rest of your life. You make a mental note to do so putting as much intention as possible into that thought. Sadly, the bubble must burst. Within seconds of breaking the glass, the same people who shouted “Mazzel Tov” at the top of their lungs, who twirled you around and lifted you in the air to celebrate your union, throw you back to earth with a sweet, inquiring “so… when’s the children?”

If it would only stop there…

But no…

Once there’s one in the works, they want to know when the next one’s coming, and then the next and so on. “What, only one / two / six?” they ask, as if there is something wrong with the decision, or the accident. Suddenly it’s not only OK to admit you’re having sex, people actually want to know about it.

Does it ever stop?

We talk about being in the now, but nobody, it seems, wants us to be. They’re too busy looking for the next celebration or piece of gossip.


In the spirit of staying ahead of the game, here’s a two-fer:

Sweet potato (a current favorite: it is not only balancing to women’s hormones and warming in the cold season, it is also a sweet vegetable that helps curb cravings as well as a good source of fibre and vitamin C) and kale, boiled, make a wonderful, flavorful, incredibly healthy broth.

That broth can then be used for a multitude of purposes (unless you drink most of it straight, like I usually do). Yesterday, I also used it as a base for a carrot and onion soup – slow roasted, caramelized, rich, deep, warming (there’s a theme these days and it’s very different from the one in the Middle East where it was thirty degrees)

I also used it to make sweet potato, kale and chickpea muffins (they ain’t pretty, but there are no eyes in your stomach anyway)

Boil two sweet potatoes and half a bunch or so of kale until soft.
At the same time, boil a tin of chickpeas with cumin powder (you can use dried ones, but for the sake of time, I used canned – just make sure to rinse well before using).

While boiling the vegetables and chickpeas, sautee fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro leaves and chili for as long as possible on as low a flame as possible.

In the food processor or blender, shred / blend the kale and the sweet potato (depending on the texture you’re going for) with a bit of the broth (have I mentioned how nourishing this broth is?)

Mash the soft chickpeas with a fork

Mix the chickpeas and sweet potato/kale mush together with the sautéed herbs and spices.

¾ cups of chickpea flour
¾ cups brown rice flour
salt to taste
½ t baking powder
1 egg (optional – I use it as a binder)
½ cup liquid / milk – fresh Brazil nut milk worked for me but I’m sure oat, almond, soya or regular would do the job just as well.

(I would have added green onion had I had any on hand, but seeing as this was more of a fridge-clearing, whatever I could find muffin (and it was seven in the morning), I didn’t bother trying to find any.)

Knead the concoction with your hands until the dough is thick and comforting but gloopy nonetheless.
If necessary, dilute with some more broth.

Spoon into a greased muffin pan (I use coconut oil) and bake at 170 degrees until muffinney

They do look like they would have special needs if they were human, but they are sweet and savoury and comforting and nutritious and they work perfectly as a snack or with soup, salad or steamed vegetables.

Now what’s next?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Wedding Dress Dilemma or How The Garnish Can Make the Soup

When D and I got engaged, I became all about the eco-chic. After reading the hundredth article about it, my main question was how green was my wedding going to be? Our invitations would be small because we were going to use a website to disperse the information. There would be minimal flowers and decorations and the food would be local, if not organic. My dress wasn’t going to be one of those lavish gowns worn once and then locked up in a closet until a future daughter might hopefully not sneer at Mom’s terrible taste and want to wear it at her own wedding. I was going to wear something practical, dyeable, and preferably made of organic cotton, hemp or bamboo.

I contacted a young (affordable) designer whose knitted beige dress I have often worn to other people’s weddings. Her choices of organic fabrics are urban, fun and feminine, and I loved the enthusiasm in her voice when she responded to my description of what I was looking for. We fixed an appointment and indeed met in person to discuss options. She gave me a few fantastic suggestions and requested a couple of months to come up with sketches.

Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from her. After three or four attempts on my part to get in touch, I gave up trying. Organic or not, Mohammed and the Mountain had bigger fish to fry.

In New York, I researched wedding dress thrift shops. I even tried to find “the dress” at a wonderful not-for-profit that receives all its merchandise from designers and wealthy women. The proceeds go to help inner-city children. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t stained, ripped or below size 16.

Then, despite my best intentions, I found the dress. It was everything I didn’t want it to be except puffy and lacy. It was luxurious, extravagant, a “real” wedding dress, non-transferable, non-dyable, impractical and so beautiful I couldn’t believe it was me I was looking at in the mirror.

If one is truly hell-bent on the organic, practical option, my advice is DON’T even try on those classical, ex-bloody-pensive, “real” wedding dresses. Stay away from Vera Wang, avoid entering wedding shops altogether.
That’s how they get you.

“Oh no, I’m not going to spent THAT kind of money on a dress. How dare they! IT’S ONE DAY!” you think, sensibly, following that up with a condescending “Ridiculous! I’d rather send my children to college.”

That is before you’ve tried any of them on; before you’ve felt the slinky, white fabric on your skin as you swish sexily around on your tiptoes, your former lumps now transformed into curves; before you’ve looked in the mirror and have been forced to admit that, despite the terrible hat-hair, you look better than you ever have, prettier, more feminine.

Your resolve starts to waver as you keep staring at the new you, all woman, all bride, all wife-to-be. It becomes political, philosophical, a priority – anything to make the amount you are about to spend justifiable … You think to yourself how unfair society has been to women, how far this era of combat boots and corduroy pants has driven us from our inherent femininity. But no more! The time has come to reclaim what has been squashed out of you by generations of oppression! You have to hold yourself back from raising an angry fist in the name of all the women of the world, your sisters in wardrobe, stuck in masculine suits and this close to wearing a balled-up pair of socks stuffed down their pants and a necktie to work.

So you do what anyone in your situation would: you turn to the saleslady who has waited on you hand and foot. She smiles, seemingly demure although you know she is secretly ecstatic in the knowledge that she has thwarted another bunch of good intentions, broken another girl, ripped her from the bosom of mother earth and forced her out into the open as the Carrie-wanna-be every woman really is.

“Do you take credit cards?” you ask, feeling the guilt climbing up your back and knocking on your skull as the words come out of your mouth. You pray that there is enough in the bank account to cover it, and you pray that there isn’t. You hope this won’t be what makes it blatantly clear and establishes you forever more as everything you’ve been trying to avoid: a Bridezilla in disguise.

As the jeep made its way up the mountain, I was aware of the dress draping softly over my legs. The feel of the fabric caused excitement to ripple through my skin. I shivered. Every part of me was now aware that this day was unlike any other (and not because I was going to be eating unleavened bread). My hair was done-up in beautiful curls, my makeup was as good as professional. When the jeep dropped me off, there would be a crowd of people waiting to see me. I looked out the window, inhaled deeply and exhaled loudly.

Beside me, my T and my friend DKB were silent but I could feel them as if they were clasping my hands even though in reality my fingers were curled tightly around my bouquet of flowers.

When I had put my dress on that morning, for the first time, I had felt that it was mine; that I had become the bride. Until then, it had been like putting on a costume, a costly white testament to the power of make-believe; so convinced was I that it wasn’t going to happen, that some catastrophe would bar my day from being as joyful as everyone said it was supposed to be. With the last push of the zipper, I had been transformed.

After dinner, I changed out of the dress, already regretting it as I stepped a bare foot into my jeans. I would no longer be the bride. Instead, I would be the person throwing the all-night dance party, the dress’ spell having worn off from the first tug downward of that same zipper.

When I was a child, I was afraid of monsters attacking me during the night. I slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed, and my biggest fear was that they would grab my feet in my sleep. To combat this, I convinced myself that as long as the duvet was folded over, as long as I was well-wrapped into it, I would be all right. I would tuck the covers around my feet like a cocoon, making sure there were no holes, no corners sticking out. On the worst nights, I left only the tiniest of breathing holes from where I could breathe. Tucked under pillows, folded-in like a newborn, I was safe.

The wedding dress served roughly the same purpose, except translated into adult terms. It wasn’t that monsters wouldn’t eat my feet without it, but rather that nothing bad would happen, that I didn’t need to take responsibility or make important decisions or even get involved in the petty dramas of the everyday – as long as I was wearing the dress.
“Talk to my aunt,” I had answered the restaurant manager when she had come to ask whether we should start dinner after the first round of celebratory dancing. I was the bride; it wasn’t my problem.

In my dress, the food contained no calories, even the most irritating of questions, remarks, judgments, the most rigid of expectations mattered little. In my dress, I didn’t have to worry about whether we would be able to conceive, who was thinking what, and who hadn’t heard the ceremony properly. I didn’t even have to consider how long the speeches were dragging on. Because I was the bride; and, as the bride, there was no anger, no fear, no frustration, no future, no past. Even five minutes in the future was of no consequence. As the bride, armed with my perfect white dress as weapon and shield, only that very second mattered – and then it passed. And I was back to being like everyone else, a woman celebrating an amazing event in her life, dancing, laughing, enjoying a glass of wine.

I will never know how I would have felt had I found a more eco-friendly dress for my wedding day.

Maybe none of it had anything to do with the dress. Possibly. But it will take someone else to garner those emotions without the smoothe ribbing, the flowing train (though mine was pinned up), the moulded breast cups, the hand-beaded décolletage, the fitted bodice.

In every other way, we managed to stick to our original goals. It was only the dress, the garnish if you will, that was my sweet indulgence as well as my downfall. The dress made me a bride and a hypocrite, it took me from down-to-earth to high-maintenance. The dress intoxicated me, blinding me with its beauty and how I looked wearing it. The stakes were immediately raised way beyond what I thought myself capable of delivering and yet with the dress, anything was possible.

The dress gave me the right to demand nothing less than perfection. In the dress, I could dream of a wedding beyond belief. In the dress, that wedding would become a reality.

Ironically, on the day itself, when things went differently from what I had so carefully planned, when shit actually happened, it was the fact that I was wearing the most exquisite gown that gave me the courage to laugh; and D’s tears when he saw me walking towards him, his choked whisper, “you look so beautiful”, when I finally reached him that made me feel confident enough to keep laughing. In the dress, I was invincible, and in D’s eyes, I saw clearly the main reason why buying it had been the right thing to do.

Back on earth… We returned to the blustery, grey British weather with a thankless thud after eating our way through New York, and wandering the autumn streets of Manhattan gazing at the turning leaves through our sunglasses. The damp cold was an unwelcome welcome, a sign that nothing had changed – possibly, though we felt very different, not even us.

The bills hadn’t decided to give us a break because we were newlyweds, and neither had the weather. How I wished I could wear the dress coming off the plane, arriving back in our empty home, to London, so far from so many with whom I had danced under the stars just minutes before.

On our first Friday night back, I decided to make soup. Though this sounds relatively simple and is, in theory (as well as in my regular practice), I failed miserably. There are a few reasons for this, in my opinion: first of all, I put too much pressure on myself. This was to be our first Shabbat dinner in the flat as husband and wife and I wanted it to be perfect, a meal to remember. I didn’t want Shabbat dinner to be spectacular only when we had guests over. And finally, there were two heads of cauliflower that needed to be eaten.

There are very few foods that I don’t like. In fact, other than Marmite, there is not one thing that I actively dislike. Cauliflower, however, comes damn close.

So between the self-imposed pressure and my inherent dislike of the main ingredient of my soup, it was no wonder that our first Shabbat dinner was, in fact, quite the opposite of ‘spectacular’; unless one chooses to follow that up with ‘catastrophe’.

What saved me was the garnish I improvised as a spicy counter-taste to the blandness of the veloute.

Though I ended up chucking the leftover soup – a much detested action I reserve only for truly bad food – I was able to recycle the garnish the next day by mixing it with tahini and lemon juice and reinvent it as a lush dressing for a comforting rainy-day salad.

The First Incarnation: Garnish

1 decent-sized hot chilli pepper, finely chopped
2 -3 garlic cloves, pressed
a good portion of a bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
a handful of chopped pistachio nuts
a dollop of pistachio oil
salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients in the food processor or mortar and pestle until you have a smoothish paste

The Second Incarnation: Dressing

Add tahini paste, the juice of one lemon and water to already made garnish (I added more garlic, but it’s definitely a personal taste thing)

The Salad

Slow roast 2 sweet potatoes with olive oil, sage, rosemary, salt and whole peppercorns at 150 degrees Centigrade for about an hour and a quarter (or until soft and slightly caramelized).

Lightly steam a bunch of spinach until slightly wilted. Chop up roughly

Mix the salad with the Dressing
Serve with chickpea flatbread or as a side dish.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Wedding -- Part 2 of ???

How innocent we were back then, last month, before the day arrived. We were full of perfect plans and plans for the perfect day, full of visions of everything going perfectly and plans to remind ourselves and each other to breathe when it didn’t.

Somebody told me that at some point I’d stop hoping nothing would go wrong… that there would come a moment when I would start to enjoy…

“But I’m enjoying already!” I said, through clenched teeth.

I didn’t sleep much before the wedding. In that way, I take after my grandmother. There we were, roaming the halls, the Jewish Queen and Princess of the night, the gears in our minds clicking with what ifs and need tos and how abouts. By the time D woke up every morning, my To Do list had usually grown, not shrunk. Still, I maintained, it was all good, all fun, all for the best day of my life.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of September 15th, six days before my wedding, I quietly unlocked the door to my mother’s apartment. She too was up, sipping her instant coffee, reading the paper, stroking the cat. Lola, my mother’s sinewy, grey cat must have known that D’s parents needed to sleep as, for once, she was quiet.

They had arrived in the middle of the night at Ben Gurion airport and had come straight to Haifa, to my mother’s apartment where we were to spend the next couple of days together.

“I’m going to the beach,” I whispered, “would you like to come?”
My mother shook her head, “No, I should be here when The Parents wake up.”

She had been fretting over their arrival for days. What did The Parents like for breakfast? What would The Parents think of Lola? Which part of Haifa would be best to show The Parents?

The Parents had finally arrived and were sleeping just on the other side of the bedroom door. I knew S, The Mother, would probably be up momentarily and could understand why my mother wanted to hang around.

I drove down to the beach enjoying the pre-rush-hour serenity, a rarity in Israel. The waves were quite high that day, the sky white as the sun was still busy setting somewhere else. Along the water, people were jogging, walking their dogs, talking loudly down their cellphones.
“Motti! I told you!” one large woman hollered, her bulges rolling around as she strode purposefully along, “I can’t right now, I’m relaxing!” She was dressed for the gym, walking as if on Wall Street, her voice at the same pitch and tone as someone watching the markets crash from the floor of the stock exchange.
I smiled: Israel.

Three hours later, I returned home smelling of seaweed and carrying one hundred and ten stones on which we would write our guests’ names later on that day – me, my Mum and my future sister-in-law, Silv, who is mad-talented at the arts and crafts thing.

My mother opened the door and burst out laughing. Behind her, D’s mother looked worried. I was covered in a layer of sand, my shorts were falling down, my t-shirt was drooping off one shoulder as I dragged one of those huge blue IKEA bags – the ones with the lifetime guarantee, mostly because they are so toxic that they will probably outlast humankind – filled with the rocks I had scrounged at the beach.

In addition, I was also carrying a large, rotting oar. Under a layer of seawater and algae, the rusting screws and attachments sticking out, it was a beautiful find that would, in my opinion, fit perfectly on my mother’s terrace, next to her plants and copper pots.

We are foragers, my family and I, and everything from our friends – picked up in restaurants or airplanes -- to our homes reflect this. My mother’s coffee table is a huge slab of tree trunk found by my grandfather years ago; ours – D’s and mine – is an old trunk a friend pulled out of a landfill in New Jersey. The artwork on our walls is a mixture of gifts and treasures acquired when others no longer saw a need for them. I remember my first bicycle: it was an olive green banana-seated rusty old thing bought for a quarter at a garage sale in a suburb of Chicago. Talk about aspirational – I was still riding a tricycle at the time! I remember the day that I was finally able to touch the pedals with my feet. What a day that was… And now here I was, getting ready to be a bride.

First I would need a shower.

I had had to make two trips for the stones and though I had barely slowed my pace walking by the oar the first time around, I hadn’t been able to resist twice. As I dragged the bag of rocks with one hand, the oar with the other, my cellphone had started to vibrate in the back pocket. I can never resist my cellphone – or any other phone really: what if it’s something important? Even in other people’s houses, I have to remind myself that no matter what, agents and publishers and even my family do not have the number, that they can call me on my mobile if they want to offer me a book deal. Which is why when my back pocket vibrated that morning, I dropped the oar and wrangled the receiver to my ear as quickly as possible.





I recognized PB of PB&J fame (well, really, it’s PB&SB, but I prefer J as they are as mythical a couple as my favourite childhood breakfast).

“PB!” I laughed at the timing of his phone call.

“It’s PB,” he said at the same time, “greetings from Ojai!”

“What time is it there?”

“Oh, I don’t know, the middle of the night … We’re leaving in the morning and hadn’t heard from you. We wanted to find out how to get to Jerusalem from the airport.”

My cousin had arrived from Canada a couple of days before. I would be seeing D’s parents in a few minutes. I had spoken to other friends who were already in Jerusalem. Still, hearing PB’s chipper charms oozing from California to Haifa made it suddenly real. They were wondering how they were going to get to Jerusalem, where they were going to sleep… because they were on their way to our wedding…

“I was going to surprise you,” I admitted, feeling stupid for having forgotten to email them some false information to throw them off the trail or at least put their minds at ease, “I’ll be at the airport.”

Half an hour later, I walked into my mother’s flat carrying the rotting oar and one-hundred-and-ten stones but unlike when I had left at 6:15 that morning, I was excited rather than stressed, filled with exuberance not anxiety for the days to come.

We were so innocent back then, a month ago, when I still thought it was “just a piece of paper.”

We wrote vows to each other and fretted over our speeches.

We walked people around the Old City of Jerusalem and climbed Massada at sunrise. We spread mud on each other’s faces at the Dead Sea, and listened to the chanting of the Muezzin. We huddled with the rest of the masses making their way out of the Damascus Gate, and sipped fresh mint tea in the garden of the American Colony Hotel. We welcomed friends and family from the UK, from the US, from Canada, from Belgium, from Modi’in and Tel Aviv, from Switzerland. We answered questions about the history of Jerusalem and our history as a couple, we introduced people whom we would have wanted to have in the same room on many occasions and watched them click into easy conversations as if they had known each other for as long as we had known them – years or generations.

And D and I stood back every few hours, holding hands and watching it all unfold without really realizing what was happening, what was about to happen, what had been set in motion.

Then, suddenly, there was no time… for anything.

From the back of the minibus, my eyes filled with tears when the first sign appeared: “To David and Gabriela’s wedding”. My aunt had promised to put them up a few days earlier upon hearing what they meant to me. Still, seeing “To Michal and Jonathan’s wedding” is very different from seeing my own name in the bride’s slot. For the first time, I understood why magazines pushed so vehemently for waterproof mascara.

Throughout Israel poles and trees bear signs to people’s weddings. They hang there, weeks after the event, fading in the sun, dripping with rain, until they fall off, making way for new signs, new celebrations. In a country so filled with sadness, the signs to people’s weddings are a testimony to the human desire for happiness, under any circumstance.

“May we meet on happy occasions” people say, “Nitrae Besmachot”

The reality of seeing those signs pointing to MY wedding, in English, in Hebrew, with my Tia from Canada and my mother and my friend DBK from London sitting next to me – was starting to sink in when I sat upright so quickly I hit my head knocking my perfectly-done hair loose: with all of the preparations, the photographs, the laughter, the mediation, the emotions of that morning… I had forgotten my vows.

I looked up at the roof of the car and shook my head. Oh the irony… I knew D would love it, savour it, like a bite of chocolate ice cream that lasts for months instead of seconds, or the perfect espresso, imbibed at a hole-in-the-wall in Italy but superb enough to recall to one’s fiancée years later.

Fresh from a week of ups, downs and many, many sideways, I had finished my vows that morning having added a final message to my soon-to-be husband:
After an emotionally raw but honest admission that “I love the way you look at me sometimes, with more love than I thought existed. Even when my heart feels cold and closed off, there is always a sliver of love, like the crack of light seeping out from under a tightly shut door. I am reminded that there is someone there behind the pain and sadness, that I am capable of feeling the way I do for you. You have taught me to love imperfection, because you love me despite all of mine.”
I had deliberately followed it up with “You’ll probably forget all of this as you forget most things, but if there is one thing that I would like you to remember, it is that I promise to work every day of our life together to accept you like you accept me, to forgive your foibles and idiosyncracies like you forgive mine, to forgive both of us, to love you as best I can and to make you feel loved.”

I did not expect so many tears – his – or so many things forgotten – mine. Who knew that we would be exchanging roles that day, showing each other our most vulnerable sides – in public! – and that those little things would make the larger reality of our marriage mean so much more.

When we were theorizing about how we wanted our ceremony to play out, sitting on the couch in our living room in London, the heating blasting, the rain pelting down in the middle of summer, we considered everything from the poles that would hold up the huppah to the music our friend ITB would play. We talked about stones for place-holders and dessert. We wondered whether the jeep would get people up in time, whether everyone would be able to walk to the ceremony all right, and when it all needed to happen in order for us to make sunset.

Never, not once, did we consider what we would do if I forgot anything.

Because I don’t forget things.


In the well-oiled mechanism of our partnership, that’s D’s job.

My job is then to sigh as if he has just deposited the entire scope of mother-earth on my shoulders, which I predictably follow-up with a shaking of the head in an “I-Knew-It” fashion. Depending on my mood, I either let him have it or I laugh it off, which is when D picks up the ball and looks either relieved or afraid, frustrated or defensive or glad.

Those are our jobs; mine and his. And that was what I was signing up for, wasn’t it?

If there was ever a moment to realize that partnership, marriage, love is about change and growth, about accepting that we will never know the other person fully, and about enjoying those new nooks and crannies – that was it.

I don’t think I would have been as ready to commit myself to D at any other point in time as I was that afternoon. I have never loved him as much as I did then, nor have I been able to laugh at myself as easily as I did realizing how many things I was supposed to do that I hadn’t. Because I forgot. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t make me any of the things I would usually have called myself -- stupid, useless, etc. -- because those are the little things that will make our chuppah memorable – for us and everyone else. I forgot my vows, I said “shit” under the chuppah – twice.

And still, it was the best day of my life… for so many reasons…. When do you stop talking about something that didn’t feel real and was so incredible that people are still discussing it almost a month later?

All I can say is I don’t know but I’m not done yet…

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wedding – Part 1 of ???

This is part 1 of I don’t know how many. Because when do you stop talking about something that didn’t feel real and was so incredible that people are still discussing it almost a month later?

Everyone had said it would be the best day of my life. Then again, “everyone” say a lot of things… I don’t necessarily believe “everyone” anymore. Not usually anyway… What do they know about me?

But once in a while an event or a moment comes along that stretches across the divide of age, of time, of location, of pronouncements and predicaments. I guess wedding days, for the most part, fall into that category. At least that’s what everyone says.

It was, far, far beyond any runner-up, the best day of my life. And looking at the pictures, I have to remind myself that that beautiful girl in the white dress, the gorgeous woman glowing, beaming, overflowing with confidence and joy – is the same person who usually focuses on her double chin and the protruding belly -- me.

There were no spilt ends that day, no bloat, no wrong foods. From the hair that wouldn’t stay up, to the bus that got lost, to the forgotten vows – it was all perfect.

And now comes the tricky task of talking about it, of putting it down in words that are only mine, without the backup of others’ experiences, which is why I have found it so difficult to get anything down at all…

Did it happen? Really?

Why did it end?

What now?

I want to call everyone who was there and get each and every person to talk me through it minute by minute, in slo-mo so I can relive the whole thing again

and again

and again

Ninety-nine times over…

D and I knew, from when we first started planning the wedding, that we didn’t want our night to have a set end-time. We wanted it to be a night unlike any other – Passover on crack, a night that would go on, with no rules, no “right” no “wrong”, only us and the one word that we kept bringing up throughout the planning: fun.

We didn’t want to get stuck fiddling with room keys at two a.m., or waking up in the same bed we had that morning. So we didn’t.

At nine the next morning, we said goodbye to the last guests.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… Because there are so many strands to this wedding, so many details to mention, to paint into the bigger picture, that it is easy to forget the bottom line: we are now married, D and I, and rather happily at that.

We keep staring at each other and sappily slurring “we’re married” – not because we’re drunk, but the words feel sticky, unused, as if they were just taken out of the box, or there is caramel in our mouths, or peanut butter. It doesn’t feel natural yet. Nor does “my husband” that I find myself saying as often as I possibly can. I still can’t say it without laughing. Only recently did I get over the hysterics involved in “my fiancé”.

So here’s part 1 of many, or few, part 1 of the best day of my life, part 1 of whatever I can remember of that day, that week, that never-ending stream of people I love appearing and hugging me and wishing me well.

Much of the ceremony is a blur, but D staring into my eyes and urging me to remember that moment, remains clear. Because now that we’re back in the greyness of London, now that everyone has returned to their lives, I want it all back, and so I close my eyes and breathe in the air of the Judean Hills, the sun setting, and a friend’s perfume that reminds me that people have come from far away to celebrate with us.

What a day. What a week. What a life. I’m a wife.

((sorry… :-))


Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Final Countdown

The guests have started trickling in; refreshing like raindrops after a hot, humid summer. Planning the wedding had taken over every corner of my life. At first it was just a few little things here and there: a question about time of day – did we want the ceremony at sunset or afterwards, a question about alcohol – only wine or full bar, what kind of music we would play, etc. But soon enough, it took over, seeping into even my most private corners, the place from where I write, my sleep. I have been dreaming of labyrinths. At times, the hedges are beautiful, in full bloom, with brightly coloured flowers imparting their comforting scent. Other nights are filled with long corridors, cold stone hallways that lead nowhere.

I arrived a few days early to be with my mother, my grandmother, my family. We have talked until I feel my head has been turned upside down and emptied of thoughts. Still, the dreams come.
I am ready now to get married.

People want to know why it took so long, why we planned it for close to a year-and-a-half. Besides the obvious logistical reasons such as our difficulty deciding the location of the wedding, I have realized in all of this that it is so much more.
I couldn’t have committed myself to D a year ago, or even six months ago the way I feel ready to today. We have gone through a process, him and I, separately and together, of becoming ready for this next step.

While I questioned and doubted, people kept telling me that it shouldn’t be such a big deal, that in the worst case we could get a divorce. And while that is true, that is not the way I want to enter a marriage – thinking of my out. Of course I am lucky to be taking this step when I am. Unlike in the past, I am no longer seen as “belonging” to my husband, I don’t have to give up anything to be with D, nor am I expected to be a glorified servant. I am lucky in that sense, and yet for the past few months, I wrestled with a feeling of being trapped. Why could I not get away from that feeling of the noose tightening around my neck when I thought about the wedding?

I wanted to be in Israel, in Thailand, in India, in New York. Anywhere but sitting at the dining table, across from my future husband talking about names of tables and who we would ask to make a speech.

I ran away a few times… all the way to Queen’s Park… and back … the sweat trickling down my back both from stress as well as the physical effort of running for an hour. The doctor told me not to, that the pounding on the pavement was not the right thing for me to do. I didn’t stop. The same person also told me to stick to hot foods, that I needed nourishment because of the cold weather in London as well as my stress levels that were depleting me of nutrients. So I ate berries and fresh coconut, cold nut milk and salads.

It was almost as if I wanted to sabotage it all – my body, my relationship, my wedding, my life.

“I just want to write,” I told D, as if he could make me sit down and do it. “What are we doing?” I asked him. He didn’t know either. All he could tell me was that to him it felt right.

I talked to whomever would listen, asking for answers that nobody could give me. I stayed up all night a few times, and couldn’t sleep all day. I felt like a zombie, the cotton candy in my head making the questions even more difficult to tackle. And D, as always, held my hand, kissed my cheek, my lips, and told me he loved me. At three o’clock in the morning, at five in the evening.

He was waiting until the storm passed. Unlike me, he knew it would.

There is nothing quite like the clarity I get after one of those dark periods. After a day, a week, a month of life being too much, of the questions and the doubts, the reproach, the self-criticism taking over like a black magic cloak that covers my entire life; arriving into the light at the end of the tunnel is pure bliss.

Gratitude is a word used so often these days in the New-Age saturated world. What I’ve realized is that there’s a reason for this because without gratitude, we just keep moving, slowly losing our ability to feel as we make our way from one thing to the next like robots.

The guests have started arriving and I look at D with new eyes every day as we take a moment every evening to light a candle and remember that this time isn’t about chicken or fish, it isn’t about who’s coming and who can’t make it. This time is about that moment, the one that has taken the least planning in comparison to everything surrounding it, the moment that belongs to just him and me. When I can say to him that I choose to be with him. Because after all that, after the questions, the travel, the runs around the block and half-way around the world, that is my conclusion – not out of fear or because it’s easier, not because it’s what other people think should be done, but rather because it is what I want.

The guests are arriving to see a moment of honesty between two people, to get a small window into our days when nobody else is around, when I might get annoyed that he hasn’t washed up, and he might get frustrated that I haven’t left the house in a week and look like it. It is a private moment that we have chosen to share, and now that I have faced my stage fright and remembered what the actual point of all of this is… I can’t wait!!!

Many demons have bitten the dust in the past few months, after they rose up to haunt me one more time. Many dreams have been let go of, altered, mourned as I chose the path that I have decided to travel. Many others have appeared and been resurrected as the reality of saying “I do” (or whatever words we choose to use) has taken on all sorts of shapes and perspectives.

A week from today, D and I will get married on top of a mountain, at sunset. It seems like such a grown-up thing to do; and I guess I had to grow up in order to be able to really grasp what it means to me.

People have emailed and called to tell me they love the invites, the program, the opportunity to come to Israel. Friends have sent their regrets, menus have been changed, my dress has made me feel more wonderful and feminine than ever before, and then more naked and awkward that I thought was possible. D and I have rowed and made up, and then rowed again. We found a happy medium by watching as many West Wing episodes as possible to distract ourselves in the past couple of months and we have regretted having to turn the television off one more than one occasion when returning to the reality of our lives was not our first choice. We have lost weight, gained weight, lifted more seventeenth-century Russian strength training apparatuses than I knew existed. We have drank ourselves into oblivion and we have danced around with excitement. One time, we even broke up. Then we went for a long walk, picked blackberries and continued to plan the wedding. D got pneumonia and some weird thing on his eyelid. I got rashes, cold feet and went on food binges. We’ve spent a good few hours on the phone, or texting one another our deepest doubts, fears and dreams… and now here we are…

D arrived yesterday.

It was like a homecoming or sorts.

In some ways, the wedding feels further away now that we’re in Israel than it did from London. In other ways, it feels closer.

I’m no longer scared.

I don’t sleep. Last night, I watched D’s chest, his closed eyes, as he lay next to me. Technically he’s my future husband although in our hearts and minds, having made the trajectory we have in the past few months, in many ways I feel we’re already married. The day, a week from today, is going to be the public declaration, the culmination of what we have lived through in private for weeks and months as we prepared and questioned, compared and decided.

The guests are trickling in, as diverse and amazing as the pieces of material they sent to create the chuppah we will marry under. I couldn’t cry when I saw it, I was too overwhelmed. Other people overwhelm me, D reminds me to breathe. Other people are happy to see me laughing, D is happy to see me regardless of how I’m feeling.

I have found gratitude. And after four years of saying it, of living it, I have found love. It is the simplest of words. It has been bastardized and overused, like the word “peace” in the Middle East. I have said it so many times before, but I never really knew what it meant. I do now… and I’m ready… Regardless of what happens if, when and how… I’m ready now… finally.

So here I go, stumbling and mumbling, and hopefully with some grace… See you on the other side…

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sweet and Sour Nostalgia

Jerusalem, May 2008, 10:45 p.m.

My good friend from childhood and I were walking around the deserted Mahane Yehuda market in search of cashews – what I usually crave when I have too much alcohol and not enough sustenance in my system.
“By the way,” he said a propos of nothing, “I’ve been reading your blog. It’s not bad. Then again, you’ve always been pretty good with the prose.”
He paused for a few steps as I drunkenly interrogated a shopkeeper about the pretty sad-looking nuts we’d found.
“They’re the best!” the man assured me, his voice echoing off the empty stalls, “I take them home to my own family! It’s because they use so much salt!” He licked his lips.
I thanked him and we continued our search.

“This is just my opinion, but what’s with the recipes?” my friend continued as if he hadn’t stopped talking (he does that – sometimes with years in between sentences).
He is the first person to whom I ever admitted my secret dream to become a writer. He used to be the only person I would show my sad love poems to (sad in many more senses than the obvious emotional one), my half-finished short stories. My childhood friend and I, we would share ideas, joints, hallucinations and dreams of seeing our names on the spines of our future novels, volumes of poetry, gallery exhibits.

Throughout high school, I called him my brother, and we saw each other naked way beyond the age when it would have been acceptable (I feel the need to point out that this has always remained a platonic friendship). Now here he was, age thirty-two, not understanding the superlative importance of the recipes in my blog -- technically the original point of The Point of This Being.

What did that mean in terms of our friendship?

That night, I got pretty drunk – a combination of disappointment and the absence of palatable cashew nuts; but the next morning, my disappointment had little to do with the throbbing in head.

It’s true: our lives had diverged. We’d moved away, from the place we grew up in, from each other. Over the years, the words, “you haven’t changed” became a bridge between us, a way of hoping to recuperate some of our old friendship, reconnect as we did as children, smoking on the roof of his garage or watching Fawlty Towers giddy with munchies, yelling “Fire! Fire!” with John Cleese like a sing-along.

As idealistic adolescents, we’d lament our fate, my friend and I. We didn’t want to be asking all those questions, probe so deeply into our souls or each other’s.

These days, we talk about pills – vitamins, supplements – books we still haven’t written. We discuss “Options” and “Possibilities”, the grown-up replacements for what we once called dreams.

Thankfully some things really haven’t changed: my friend still doggedly pursues me with “have you read my poems?” And I, still lazy, disorganized, overwhelmed by my To Do list, I still honestly admit that no, I have not.

However, those long-standing consistencies are few.

Time seems to elapse quicker than it did when my days were divided into those sleep-inducing fifty-minute blocks of English, Math, Geography, etc. In high school, every class felt like a lifetime wasted. I could have been learning guitar instead of square roots (that’s what calculators are for), and when would I EVER need to recite Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” again?! (bizarrely often, as it turns out)

Last week, it took me an hour and a half to call the plumber.

I used to think I’d raise my kids with my closest friends around. I imagined children as comfortable in their own parents’ houses as with their aunties and uncles. I wonder now who those surrogates would be?

“You’re wrong! I HAVE changed!” I want to yell it, prove it in ways that nobody will be able to argue with. I’m a different person from that pudgy, insecure teenager who wore tents for t-shirts and almost had to have her Doc Martins surgically removed.

I sit across from my old friends, and some newer ones, watching our conversations drift off into the uncomfortable silences that inevitably quell the fire of our original excitement at seeing one another again. I watch us try to restart them, one by one – conversations, connections, commonalities – like an old car that makes a hill look like a mountain, and I wonder when those damning words will pop up.

“You haven’t changed.”

Four words. They sound so innocent and yet they have the power to pull me backwards against my will. It’s much worse than a memory. Memories are in the past. These words are very much in the present: as if all those questions I found more questions to, as if all that soul searching, all those journals filled and love stories lived had never taken place; as if every good time, every bad surprise has failed to leave even the faintest of marks.

It’s true: the oversized t-shirts have shrunk to better-fitting outfits, and these days I’ll even wear heels from time to time. I mostly feel like I’m a different person although I must admit that from time to time I do revert to being that aggressive, irreverent teenager. But besides the wrapping, what has changed inside?

“Look!” I want to open up my brain, my heart cavity, my lungs, my belly, show them the images I carry around with me, all the events that have helped shape who I have become since our last real conversation.

I’ll point to that place at the back of my liver, the spot reserved for the learning experiences -- the bad ones -- “This is the first job I had after college.”
“And over here” I’ll say “right under my throat, here’s the first guy I slept with who really believed in me.” He’s the one who told me I should only marry someone who will appreciate me.

The emails and cards keep pouring in with friends excitedly planning their trip to Israel to be with us on September twentieth while others apologetically decline. Everyone keeps saying that we shouldn’t forget what it’s really about: him and I. And in that sense, D and I are really working our way to new levels of intimacy and loving as we work together to put together our wedding.

I have to admit though, that while we have had some incredible surprises – people who have gone to extreme lengths to be able to celebrate with us in person – others have been nothing short of complete disappointments.

Some people should have, in my mind, responded differently. These are the friends whose title in my life may have become vague with time, like an old, yellowed letter from a past relationship, friends who may have a different view of our friendship than I do, friends who may not be friends other than because we were, once upon a time. Though the markings of their presence may not be as instantly visible on the map of my being, selfishly, a part of me feels they should be the first ones there, at this next rite of passage, their soft, familiar touch guiding me to this next stage I am choosing to enter.

But maybe they’re more correct than I would like to admit, those cursed words. Maybe I am the one who has closed my eyes to the inevitable evolution – mine, my friends’. While I claim so proudly to have moved on, maybe I am the one who is stuck in the desire to claim that nothing has changed between us when so much clearly has.

By sending their regrets, those people are telling me that they have changed, that our friendship is no longer what it used to be, that maybe I need to open my eyes to the divergence of our paths.

In some cases, it doesn’t matter. Some friends remain, sinking into sporadic afternoons drinking tea, or evenings sharing a bottle of wine – because we find a new common language or because we both enjoy that jaunt into our common history.

They could still call me in the middle of the night if they had an emergency, those friends, whether they are coming to my wedding or not. And I guess, in a way, that’s what makes us friends – even if we don’t have much to say to one another, even if we more often than not find excuses not to get together, even if they sent an apologetic email when I was expecting a delirious congratulatory one. We are friends, no commitment ceremony necessary.

“I love to cook,” I told my friend, “in fact I’m working on a cookbook.”
“Really,” he said, shrugging, “cool…”
The conversation about food was obviously over.
We had started walking towards the bar where D and some others were waiting.
“Hey,” my friend glanced over at me. I knew what was coming… “Have you read my poems?”


Sometimes a first impression of someone says nothing about who they are, or what role they end up playing in your life. Sometimes people you think are friends turn out not to be while sometimes people we distrust end up being the most loyal.

Sometimes ingredients one wouldn’t naturally pair work perfectly together. Who would have thought peanut butter and jelly would work? Or chocolate and mint?

Twice in the past month, I have randomly thought up a combination of ingredients that sounded incredibly far-fetched; and both times I have decided to follow my instincts and see where they lead. The results have been tremendous.

The first was a blueberry and green onion sauce which D and I drizzled over tuna tataki. The story is quite sweet: I was on the bus on my way home when D called.
“Where are you?” he demanded in very uncharacteristic shortness.
“I’m on the bus.” I retorted snarkily.
“Come home quickly, sweetheart, I’ve chopped off the tip of my finger.”
The bus inched its way through London’s rush hour.
Finally, I arrived home to what looked like a murder scene. There was blood everywhere, even in my stash of tampons where D had apparently been looking for a plaster. The poor man had bled his way through the kitchen and the bathroom looking and by the time I came home he was trying to cut strips of tape left-handed. He had been mandolining courgettes (zucchini) and apparently his writer’s mind had wandered off to some far-off place until he’d felt his pointer-finger connect with the blade. Now that I knew he was no longer in mortal danger, I had to laugh: every day, I prepare two to three meals and the one time D decides to cook, he lobs off his finger. I took over, bandaged him up, cleaned up the puddles and set out to make the dinner he had originally planned. As he sat holding his finger in the air, annoyingly and lovingly instructing me on how to pestle the spices and the oven temperature, I added my own ideas and ingredients.

The tuna was quickly covered in well-pounded cumin and fennel seeds, what was left of the mandolined courgettes were baking away. Somehow, we thought up a blueberry and green onion sauce. Slightly tart, a little sweet and a wonderful counterbalance to the saltiness of the tuna, this sauce is quick, easy and absolutely delicious.

Blueberries (about one punnet)
Two or three green onions the green bit chopped fine
Cumin seeds, just a pinch
A dash of cayenne
A spoonful of date syrup (to taste)
Grated ginger

Mix the ingredients in a pot
Add enough water that it will all melt into a nice saucy-like consistency.

Bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat to as low as possible and allow to cook until the blueberries are soft and the green onion all but disappears. I left it on there for about twenty minutes if not a little more). By the time the tuna is done, the sauce should be warm and ready.

D pronounced it my best meal ever.

Until last Thursday…

I must admit that I was very proud of myself for having come up with such an astonishing idea – and one that worked! I kept bringing it up to D, who rolled his eyes appreciatively and, I’m sure, hoped I would “outdo myself” soon just so I would stop talking about the damned blueberries.

Then, last Thursday, I woke up in the morning with a very specific craving: I wanted shrimp with fresh basil and grilled peaches.

So that night, we grilled shrimp with fresh basil and peaches. Try it, it’ll blow you away!

Fresh shrimp, peeled and veins removed
Fresh basil, finely chopped.
peaches, sliced
olive oil
salt to taste

mix the ingredients together and let marinate for a little while.

In the mean time, prepare the rest of the meal. We had a leafy green salad and mint guacamole.

Mint Guacamole:
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint
Lemon juice

Mash up the avocados
Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste, mix very very well.
Add the garlic, minced or chopped as fine as humanly possible.
Chop the mint as finely as the garlic and mix and mash until your hand feels it’s about to fall off.

Once the rest is ready, grill the shrimp and peaches. We don’t have an outdoor grill, so we use a Le Creuset pan grill, which worked brilliantly.

The result was sweet, savoury, crunchy, nourishing, refreshing and, more than anything, just a lot of fun. It’s a dish that tastes like laughter, and with it’s vibrant greens and oranges, it looks like it too.