Thursday, November 29, 2012

The things you cannot have

For me, being an ex-pat means having two selves. I have two passports. I have two homes. I board an airplane and I slip from one self to the other. In both places nothing has changed and everything is different. The streets of Chicago are still straight lines. East toward the lake. The wooden floors in my parents house still creak comfortingly under bare feet. My friends are still my friends. In this Chicago self, I navigate the city by instinct, like its set in my bones and it is. I have a role and a personhood there among people who have known me and loved me since I was a child; where love is effortless and just there. But my friends have children now, and the skyline is a little bit fuller, a little different, every I see it.  My brother lives in another part of the country now; his Chicago bungalow traded for a stately old house in New Jersey. So the shape and rhythm of things are different. Everyone has lives without me as I have a life without them. 

Jerusalem is the same also when I return. The light is still bright. The road up from the airport is still familiar: I feel the twists in the road as I doze and I know where we are. My apartment is still my apartment. The cat still wheezes her way into my bed at night. My friends are still my friends. And yet, somehow in the two weeks I was away, there was a war, or a skirmish, or a something that was pretty horrible, but could have been worse. Something is born. I don't know what it is. A terrible beauty, perhaps, or just something terrible. It's too early to tell how these politics will play out. In the meantime, there is my Israeli self- the walk to the supermarket; the wet winter smell of rain; dinner with friends; sunlight in my kitchen; that job to apply to. Everything is the same here, but very different.

It's like this: My life is like a comic strip. There's the weekday strip, in black and white and the Sunday strip in full color. The characters are different, the storylines are different and they don't converge. One would think that with the years, this feeling of a double life would fade, but no, the weekday strip gets longer and more convoluted. The Sunday strip gets brighter and more complicated. They remain apart and divergent and real. The paradox remains.

There is here and there is there and I can't have them both.

Here is another thing I cannot have in Israel- brussels sprouts. They just don't grow here. So as much as I would like to make my Mom's brussels sprouts with chestnuts, I cannot. She made them for our (second) Thanksgiving dinner (our first proper one was held the home of old friends and was awesome. This second one was on Friday night at home. Why do one Thanksgiving dinner when you can do two?) I never really liked brussels sprouts when I was kid. I suspect most kids don't. Too often they are boiled into submission and emerge watery, squishy and pungently cloying. My mom goes a different route entirely. Instead of boiling the sprouts, she shaves them thin and browns them in a hot wok, where they become sweet and slick and caramelized. At the very end, she adds a handful of roasted chestnuts, which play off and highlight the nutty sweetness of the vegetables. I'd like to say that this dish is the adult version of boiled brussels sprouts, but really it is a different creature entirely. What I can say is that this dish makes my Israeli-self mourn her lack of brussels sprouts, which is something I have never thought I would find myself saying, ever.

But brussels sprouts are there and I am here and I can't have them both.

My Mother's Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Chestnuts

Adapted from Ricky Krakowski

As with most good home cooks, my mother doesn't really measure when she cooks. I've estimated her amounts and times.

 2 medium (or 1 large) onion, diced
1.5 pounds brussels sprouts (more-or-less), thinly shaved
one 3.5 oz bag of peeled, vacuum-packed chestnuts
a few good glugs of olive oil

1. Place a large, heavy wok over a med heat. When hot, pour in enough olive oil to coat. Add the onion. Saute, stirring often, until translucent. Turn the heat up to med-high. Add the brussels sprouts and salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally, but mostly let them sit and soften and caramelize. They are done when they are soft and a beautiful caramel brown. Turn off the heat. Crumble the chestnuts and toss them into the wok. Stir to incorporate. Serve.

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