Hummus

Hummus is smeared across my shoes, embedded into the breathable synthetic fiber, clinging tenaciously inside the vents. It’s as much a part of me as it is my footwear now, inextricably melded into the very foundation of existence.

In Israel, hummus is not an appetizer or a condiment; hummus is a meal. Thick swirls of silken chickpea puree undulate behind lashings of fiery red or green schug, mountains of minced garlic and onions, whole beans, and a flurry of smoked paprika, to be scooped up in warm, soft, pillowy pita bread, all in one fell swoop. Mind you, that’s only the most basic preparation, the bare minimum for admission.

Generous pools of toasted sesame tahini and grassy olive oil meet and mingle, blending, harmonizing together. Tiny rafts of minced parsley float on top, pushed along by the lively desert air. A few heavenly bites in, and small dish of fresh chopped tomatoes and cucumbers suddenly arrives at the table, unannounced. Are they complimentary? Did I order them and forget? This is best left unquestioned, because their brightness is an indispensable part of the party now.

More people pull up chairs, dropping mashed eggplant and strings of pickled red cabbage as they land. Roasted mushrooms sparkling in the midday sun, teasing umami flavor across every bite. A pinch of za’atar here, a sprinkle of sumac there, herbaceous, tangy, tart; no two tastes are ever quite the same. Chasing the same high becomes maddening, an impossible pursuit, yet never once does the endeavor disappoint.

Temperatures begin to fall as the sky glows orange, slowly fading to deeper and darker shades of red. Still, the central bowl remains as bountiful as the conversation, changing shape and color as friends filter in and out, adding their own flavors into the mix. Sometimes spicier, sometimes saltier, the unique blend always seems to suit the personalities gathering around.

Should the bottomless platter of pita travel too far out of reach, outstretched forks and spoons dart out like heat-seeking missiles, locked on to the central schmear. For all intents and purposes, it’s a creamy salad at this point, so why not skip the formalities and go straight for the good stuff?

When the moon trades shifts with the sun, stars blaze ahead, never once allowing darkness to descend. Alley cats cautiously emerge to scavenge for scraps; perhaps an errant chickpea that escaped, a messy dollop of baba ganoush splattered on the sidewalk below. The day continues on heedless of time, interrupted only by the intermittent silence of chewing. Only when the spread is fully demolished, dishes wiped clean, does the party finally pack it in.

Hummus is not just a type of food. Hummus is a way of life.

Lest I leave you hungry for more, here are a few of my favorite hummus recipes:

Broccoli and “Cheese” Hummus
Curry in a Hurry Hummus
Hummiki (Hummus-Tzatziki)
Hummus Primavera
Nacho Hummus

Advertisements

Eating at Altitude

Bile rose in my throat as I choked battery acid back into my lungs. Ordering a large black coffee at the airport wasn’t a good idea to begin with, but it was the only thing keeping me vertical after a sleepless night leading up to the 3am departure. I should be excited about the trip of a lifetime looming just a few hours of air time away now, but all I could do was hold my stomach in agony. How much of it was physical churning, and how much could be attributed to the machinations of an unsettled mind? Either way, my inner workings wouldn’t stop spinning.

The complimentary meal service did nothing to improve the situation. Gingerly lifting the foil lid and releasing a foul, putrefying aroma into the stagnant cabin air, I immediately regretted unleashing this beast. Prison food immediately came to mind. A muddy brown, starchy morass oozing over swollen grains of rice enveloped a handful of token anonymous vegetables, steamed so aggressively that they dissolved on the fork. If it was in fact edible, I couldn’t summon the appetite to find out. A few cursory pokes was the most enthusiasm I could muster.

Where was the menu revitalization that gets so much press when it comes to air travel innovations? Wasn’t there supposed to be something a least a step above the moldering garbage that landed on my tray table here? Even the omnivores summarily rejected their rubber chickens and congealed lasagna bricks. I’m not asking for a gourmet meal here, but something at least remotely evocative of a recognizable fresh ingredient would be a bounteous gift.

Never travel hungry, never go it alone. Live and learn; if at least half of my carry-on luggage isn’t composed of easy, accessible snacks, I’m headed towards nothing but trouble.

Thank God It’s FryDay

yEtiquette tip: Just order the French fries.

Your friends are lovely people, all of them, I’m sure. Some may just not have the confidence to ask for what they want. Perhaps they’re simply not self-aware enough to even know what they really want. They could be forgiven for all the salads, dressing on the side, no croutons, please, because this is the culture we live in. It’s polite to take the spartan, healthy path, while denying more decadent desires.

That’s why you’re doing them, yourself, and society at large a great favor by ordering the French fries. Don’t ask, don’t make a scene about it, still go for those giant bowls of frilly lettuces all the same. Nonchalantly push the glorious golden spuds into the center of the table, make subtle gestures to share if you must provide further encouragement, and consider the ice officially broken.

 

A Whole Latke Love

Contrary to the frequently perpetuated oversimplification, latkes are not potato pancakes. They’re not hash browns nor patties, neither nuggets, tots, nor home fries. “Shredded potato clusters” don’t quite do them justice, but it’s hard to explain such a disarmingly simple dish. Sometimes it easier to describe what they aren’t, rather than what they are- Or ought to be. Strong opinions exist about what makes a proper latke, but in my family, that only means one thing: thin, crispy, silver dollar disks of starchy ribbons, all bound together with a scant handful of matzo meal and a whisper of yellow onion for seasoning. Deeply browned around the edges with a tender interior, some more so than others to appease a diverse crowd, they’re made by the pound and scaled up by tens; never trimmed back, never turned down. Rarely do leftovers survive the main meal, no matter how many buttery Yukon golds press through those sharp spinning grates.

For as long as I can remember, Hanukah has meant the smell of canola oil wafting through the house come midday, long before the menorah comes out or the table is set. My parents work in concert to sling the edible oily miracles well in advance of arriving guests to hide the laborious demands of each painstakingly shaped round. My mom stands guard inside the kitchen, cutting down armies of potatoes to form the raw fuel for this fire. Conveying them in heaping stock pots to my dad, he then dutifully, patiently shallow fries them outside on the grill. Through the bitterly cold winds, freezing rain, hail, snow, and thunderstorms, he faces the elements with steely resolve. There’s no Hanukkah celebration without the latkes, and they’re not about to cook themselves.

I’ll start by assembling my plate daintily, politely spearing two or three small clusters to save enough for the crowd, but after the first bite, proper manners quickly fall by the wayside. Seconds consist of a half sheet tray of the potato gems, shamelessly slathered with enough sour cream to sink a ship, if not lavished with a truly decadent crown of seaweed caviar. From age 3 to 30, if I don’t end the night with grease stains on my shirt and crispy potato shrapnel tangled in my hair, then it isn’t a real holiday dinner with my family.

Latkes aren’t the point here, despite their dominance on festive menus and historical authenticity- Or lack thereof. Latkes are about symbolism, taking on whatever meaning you assign them on this holy, yet entirely ordinary winter day. Latkes are whatever you want them to be, but the only way I’ll ever want them is back east in the house where I grew up, my parents lovingly slinging them from dawn to dusk. No recipe on Earth could ever recreate that kind of experience.

The Dark Ages

When night falls, it plummets like a stone and crash-lands with a resounding thud. Darkness overtakes the sky by brute force, smudging out the sun in an deepening stain marring the clouds. There’s no gentle transition, no ombre sunset nor starry twilight. Like flipping off a light switch, the day is suddenly, starkly over.

Shelter is found in pinpricks across the landscape, by the electric flames of a thousand burning bulbs. They illuminate houses in neat little rows, strung together like bulky Christmas ornaments adorning the city, spilling their garish yellow glow across swaths of concrete. Biting into chunks of impenetrable shadow, clearing away the blackness pouring down all around, each luminous oasis is provides a brief flash of comfort.

Welcome home, they seem to whisper, You’re safe here. Behind glossy window panes, families gripe and groan about daily chores over hot dinners. Couples young and old sit quietly in front of a flickering TV screens, immersed in the latest new scandal or big ticket movie available to stream. Life continues on without missing a beat, unconcerned with the oppressive plague of night that has taken hold just beyond view. The darkness disguises our reality outside, but does not change that constant truth.

Smoke and Mirrors

Cascading down the hills and clouding city streets, this was not the usual fog rolling in from the bay. This was smoke, thick and acrid, obscuring our vision, tearing at our throats. Fires burned just beyond eye shot, but the devastation knew no bounds. We all felt the pain of a hundred thousand trees incinerated in an afternoon, reduced to ash and deposited without ceremony upon cars and buildings miles away, like a deathly snow in the summertime blaze.

Escape from this unseen monster is impossible; it hunts you, haunts you through homes and offices. It lingers in the stale air underground across BART tracks. It condenses inside closed windows. It stays within your lungs long after you exhale. It suffocates from the outside in, and the inside out.

This is not a dystopian vision of the future. This living hell is the new normal.

2018 California Wildfires