Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Tolerance

One of my favorite books as a child was Molly's Pilgrim. Molly's Pilgrim is the story a young Jewish immigrant from Russia in turn of the century America. Molly is relentlessly teased by her classmates- for talking funny, for dressing funny, for not knowing the right words for things. As Thanksgiving approaches, her teacher assigns the students the task of making Pilgrim clothespin dolls for their Thanksgiving diorama. Molly's mother, who does not have an historical context for Pilgrims, makes her a doll dressed as a Russian immigrant. For as her mother explains, Molly told her that Pilgrims were people who came to America seeking religious freedom- their family came to America seeking religious freedom, hence they are Pilgrims. Molly anticipates that the teasing will get worse when she brings the doll to school the next day. But to her surprise, the teacher likes her doll best, using it to teach the class a gentle lesson about freedom, difference, and tolerance.

Obviously, as Jewish girl living in America, the story spoke to me deeply and informed the way I grew to think about America and the values that I admired, etched into one of the country's seminal origin stories.

Of course, most origin stories, hagiographies that they are, are problematic and ahistoric. The story America's foundation sets no benchmark for tolerance, freedom or a celebration of differences. Even today, centuries later, the issues of race, class, freedom of religion, personal freedom and the rights of the strangers in our midst are among the most fraught issues in American society. And yet, my mind often strays to the words of George Washington in his letter of reply to the Jewish congregation in Newport. He writes: 
  "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of the inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens...."

Washington's words have stayed with me since I first read them in college. It is due to them that I remain uncomfortable with the word tolerance and use it only for lack of a better term. We do not tolerate those who are different than us, for toleration implies that it is within our purview to "indulge" them, as Washington said, in what is their natural right. But that indulgence is not our to give. "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship."
It is for this reason that I continue to celebrate Thanksgiving though I have not lived in the United States for over a decade. I am thankful to have lived in a country where these values, despite the failures and the fault lines and the racism and intolerance and bigotry that are woven, like dark threads, into American history, could be expressed and advocated as a truth by the first President of the United States. That truth and those values inform my ideals here, in my second home, where even tolerance has been hard to come by lately- in so many ways and in so many places. And that is why I celebrate and am thankful. 

   "May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us  all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way, everlastingly happy." 

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Marcus Samuelsson knows a thing or two about diversity and immigration. He was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and now lives in the United States. His Thanksgiving menu, published in November's Food and Wine reflects that. It is eclectic and unique, and diverse in its inspirations. I wanted to try every single recipe, and maybe I will, but for now, I limited myself to one.

 For years, I've been missing kale and other deep leafy greens. Until recently is has been almost impossible to find anything other than mangold (beet greens) and spinach here in Israel- no kale, no collards, no mustard greens (which is ridiculous, since wild mustard grows in abundance here). But to my great joy over the past few years, kale has begun to appear in Israeli supermarket. It's still on the expensive side, so I only buy it on occasion.However, I do believe that a Marcus Samuelsson recipe qualifies as an occasion. His kale salad with root vegetables and apple is a revelation. It will make a kale-hater love kale, and I know this because that is exactly what happened when I served the salad a few weeks ago. My guests and I, kale-hater and all, decimated it. It was that good. I made a few changes, but those were due to necessity, not choice (I have yet to find a rutabaga in Israel, and two pounds of kale can be expensive,) so I am posting the original recipe with options. 

Kale Salad with Root Vegetables and Apple

Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson in Food and Wine November, 2014

2 pounds kale, washed stemmed and sliced, or 1 pound kale and 1 pound beet greens, washed, stemmed and sliced.
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 carrot, julienned
1 apple, peeled and julienned
1 cup rutabaga or kohlrabi peeled and julienned
2 scallions sliced thin

1. In a big bowl, massage the kale with vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Set aside at room temperature for half an hour. 

2. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, syrup or honey, soy sauce, the 1/4 cup of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Add the carrot, apple, rutabaga or kholrabi and scallions to the kale. Toss. Add the dressing and mix again. Serve. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A World on Its Own

There is a lot of food to talk about. A lot of food that was made and consumed over the holidays. There is a lot of food being planned. Thanksgiving is coming up. I've just received a subscription to Food and Wine (thanks, Tobes) which has filled me with ideas and thoughts and just plain, I want to make that. I am sorry for my extended silence especially when I have so much to say.

The older I get, the more I come to realize that life seldom goes the way you planned, for yourself or for the people you love best. Over the course of two weeks I received spectacular news from a friend, and then on one joyous, terrible day I received very very good news from another friend while yet another friend shared news that was absolutely devastating. I think each of these friends would say that this was not the way that they expected their lives to be. This was not the story we told ourselves-this makes the joy all the more joyous and pain all the more painful.

There is a Jewish custom of bringing round foods to a house of mourning (hence the bagels) as a symbol of the circle of life and the ever turning world. I've always sort of hated this custom because at that moment, in that house of mourning, the world does not continue to spin. A world on its own is gone and destroyed in the lack and the absence. And if anything, life is not a circle, but a series of concentric ones, an extended Venn diagram, where you and your loved ones meet and overlap, laugh and cry in conjunction, but separate. Or maybe it is this, we  are each our own boat, in the same river, holding out a hand to steady each other against the current. People come into our lives, husbands, wives, friends, babies and people, new and old, leave our lives. We travel together, we travel apart.

It's an emotional buffeting to be both so very happy and so very sad.

For the reasons mentioned above lentils are also often brought to a house of mourning. I did not make these lentils in mourning, in fact, I was in a pretty good mood when I made these on Sukkot- happy to be sharing the holiday with my friends. They are sweet and sour, these lentils and I was surprised by them, because generally, sweet and sour disagrees with me. But I've been thinking about them a lot since I made, and not just because they were delicious and easy and filling, but because my life has seemed so sweet and sour as of late.

Emily's Sweet and Sour Lentils

Adapted from Becky Haendel (I do not know who Emily is, but whoever and wherever you are, Emily, thank you.)

I've made a few changes to the recipe- mostly I've halved it, because 3 cups of lentils is an insane amount of lentils, and cut the sweetness a bit. If you want to go with the original proportions- it was 3/4 cup of honey to 3 cups of brown lentils).

1/8 cup soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups brown or green lentils

1. The recipe is as simple as this: Mix all the ingredients in a small-medium pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for 40-45 minutes until the lentils are soft and most of the liquid has been dissolved. Serve hot or at room temperature, over rice or with  warm pita.