Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Abbady’

best omelet: an ongoing adventure

abba-omelette

Like many seven-year olds, my dad was my ultimate heroic figure.  He could do no wrong, say no wrong, and was always filled with an alluring intrigue.  He also was an amazing storyteller.  My father’s stories weren’t about monsters he battled with swords or rough oceans he bravely steered ships through or mythical creatures he aligned with to save the universe.  My father’s adventure tales were all real.  Born in Israel, then called Palestine, in 1933, my dad’s place in history gave him a first rate place in storytelling.

I was an eager and voracious listener, clinging onto his every word as if my life depended on it.  His stories where always vivid and alive and somehow woven in with food of some sort.   His mother’s incredible Lemon Meringue Pie was one of those food items that came up again and again.  No one, apparently, could duplicate it.  He’d return home from some sort of mischief with his cousin Rafi and there it would be, the perfect combination of tart and sweet and fluff gulped in irreplaceable bites. Recounting the Jerusalem siege would bring up more food memories. The road climbing up to the city was locked in battle and little food was available, so my father mustered up stories of making do with meals of grass, tea and if lucky, scraps of some type of meat.  On good days, you’d have an occasional egg. (Our family joke growing up was that this was why my father was so obsessed with hording food in the fridge as an adult.  We called it his Jerusalem Siege Complex.)  He talked about his father Isaac Abbady’s historical role as the official translator for the British government in Palestine, where all the players, from the British, to the Jews to the Arabs, seemed somehow dependent on this man’s intelligent and accurate interpretations. Of course, equally fascinating was my grandfather’s obsession with Cacciocavallo, a salty aged goat cheese he would fry into crispy bites. This was the stuff of the perfect movie and it was coming to me live through endless enthusiasm that sparked off my father’s hazel eyes.

Then there were the wild James-Dean-like tales of my father.  The ones that occasionally made my mother blush or quietly shake her head and walk away, but the ones my sisters and I equally adored and demanded to be told over and over and over.  His daring move to New York as a young entrepreneur and all the challenges and successes that brought on, the endless list of starlet American college women (all from upscale Ivy League stock, of course) that he mesmerized, and then the blind date that almost didn’t happen with a young woman named Marilyn who ended up stopping his heart with her beautiful smile, graceful figure, sharp wit and unparallel intelligence.  Marilyn was only filling in for her roommate who had backed out of her blind date at the last minute.  Marilyn didn’t really feel like going, but went anyway, she was that kind of friend: loyal and kind.  Thankfully that meeting stirred a series of events that would lead to marriage and eventually to me.  Of course, during this important chunk of their history, many meals where shared, but the one that sticks to most stories is Marilyn’s famous Spanish Rice, a stew of ground beef, rice, green peppers and spices, which was all she knew how to cook and all they could afford to eat!

My dad is 76 now and still manages to find adventure.  High tales follow him wherever he goes.  Food is also still an integral part of his day to day, whether it be rubbing shoulders with local Ecuadorian market vendors where he sells his hotdogs every Saturday, perusing one of the cookbooks that line his library, or cooking up his superb omelets bursting with fresh herbs and cheeses.  I feel the same way about this omelet as he does about his mother’s lemon meringue pie:  there will never be one as tasty.  When I think about him I often wonder what meal he is enjoying: it is the one solid ground we’ve always had, despite many other ups and downs.  It is an obsession he helped pass on to me (and I dare say, like him, I’ve been known to wonder out loud during lunch what we will be having for dinner).  And no matter what, I always, always miss his omelet.

la mejor tortilla de huevos: una aventura en curso

abba-omelette1

Como muchos niños de siete años, mi papá era mi figura heroica última. Él no podría hacer ningún mal, decir ningún mal, y siempre me llenaba de fascinación. Él también era un cuentista asombroso. Las historias de mi padre no eran sobre monstruos que él combatió con espadas o criaturas míticas con las que él se alineó para salvar el universo. Los cuentos de aventura de mi padre eran todos verdaderos. Nacido en Israel, Palestina en aquel entonces, en 1933, el lugar de mi papá en la historia le dio un primer puesto para contra unas verdaderas aventuras.

Yo siempre escuchaba atentamente, adhieriendo en su cada palabra como si mi vida dependió de ello. Sus historias donde siempre eran tejidas con comida de alguna clase. El Pie de Merengue de Limón increíble de su madre es uno de aquellos que se repetia mucho en sus cuentos. Nadie, por lo visto, podría duplicarlo. Él volvería a casa despues de alguna clase de travesura con su primo Rafi y allí estaría el pie de merengue de su madre: la combinación perfecta de tarta y caramelo y espuma disfrutada en mordiscos irremplazables. El recuento del sitio de Jerusalén criaría más memorias de comida. El camino que sube hasta la ciudad fue cerrado por la batalla y poco alimento estaba disponible, entonces mi padre contaria de comidas de hierba, té y para los afortunados, restos de algún tipo de carne. (Nuestro chiste entre familia era que esto era por qué mi padre estuvo tan obsesionado con tener la nevera llena de comida como un adulto. Lo llamamos su Complejo de Sitio de Jerusalén.) Él habló del papel histórico de su padre Isaac Abbady como el traductor oficial para el gobierno británico en Palestina, donde todos los jugadores, del Británico, a los Judíos a los Árabes, parecidos de alguna manera dependiente en las interpretaciones inteligentes y exactas de este hombre. Por supuesto, igualmente fascinante era la obsesión de mi abuelo con Cacciocavallo, un queso de cabra salado que él freiría en mordeduras crujientes. Este era la materia de la película perfecta y me llegaba directamente por el entusiasmo interminable que provocó los ojos color de avellana de mi padre.

Entonces había cuentos estilo James-Dean sobre mi padre. Su mudanza audaz a Nueva York como un empresario joven y todos los desafíos y éxitos que provocaron, la lista interminable de mujeres de colegio finos americanos que él hipnotizó, y luego la cita ciega que casi no pasó con una mujer joven llamada Marilyn que terminó por parar su corazón con su sonrisa hermosa, figura elegante, ingenio agudo e inteligencia sin paralela. Marilyn sólo reemplazaba su compañera de cuarto que habia cancelada a ultimo momento. Marilyn realmente no tuvo ganas de ir, pero fue de todos modos, ella era esa clase de amiga: leal y amable. Por suerte aquella reunión movió una serie de acontecimientos que conducirían al matrimonio y finalmente a mí. ¡Por supuesto, durante este cacho importante de su historia, muchas comidas fueron compartidas, pero el que se atiene a la mayor parte de historias es el Arroz español famoso de Marilyn, un guisado de picadillo, arroz, pimientas verdes y especias, que era todo lo que sabía preparar!

Mi papá tiene 76 años ahora y todavía logra encontrar aventura. Los cuentos lo siguen dondequiera que él vaya. La comida es todavía una parte integrante de su día: si ello frotar hombros con vendedores de mercado ecuatorianos locales donde él vende sus perritos calientes cada sábado, leyendo detenidamente uno de los libros de cocina que adornan su biblioteca, o preparando su tortilla magníficas que se revientan con hierbas frescas y quesos. Siento lo mismo sobre esta tortilla de huevos que él sobre el pie de merengue de limón de su madre: nunca habrá un tan sabroso. Cuando pienso en él a menudo me pregunto de que comida estara disfrutando: esto es una tierra sólida que siempre teníamos, a pesar de muchos otros altibajos. Esto es una obsesión que él ayudó a pasarme (y me atrevo a decir, como él, se ha conocido que yo me pregunto en voz alta durante el almuerzo lo que tendremos para la cena). Y pase lo que pase, siempre, siempre, me hace falta su tortilla.


tomato pancetta linguine: a blogger’s potluck tale

pancetta-pasta


When Tara Mataraza Desmond (http://crumbsonmykeyboard.com) asked me to join in on her blogger potluck to promote her fabulous book, “Almost Meatless”, I jumped at the chance. Not only is Tara kind, eloquent, and naturally glamorous, she is also a great cook, something clearly shown in “Almost Meatless”, co-written with Joy Manning. All the recipes are accessible, fast, and delicious. I was fortunate enough to prepare the Tomato Pancetta Linguine, because, as far as almost meatless lifestyles go, mine would not be whole without a little bit of pasta, a little bit of pancetta, and a story to go along with it.

Growing up as a Jew in a predominantly Catholic South American country had its moments of confusion. Sure, there was a church on every street corner and every sentence with folks seemed to end with the Vatican stamp of “si Dios quiere” (if God wants), but, even amongst my some of my closest friend’s families (and they were an eclectic, international bunch) there seemed to be some misconception, or at least, uneasiness, with my dietary restrictions as a Jew.

I admit, my family did not make things easy. There was no Hebrew School, no Shabbat, no daily Jewish ritual that would perhaps open the conversation to what we do or do not do as Jews. Instead, our home was enwrapped by a proud and boisterous Israeli father, filled with tales of Zionism and youth and enthusiastic stories of his father, Isaac Abbady, who became the official Hebrew/English/Arabic translator for the British Government ruling over Palestine at the time. His youth growing up in this tiny, tumultuous land was historic and retold as a constant action tale that made my daily visits to the local park pale in comparison. Hence the entire significance of Israel was elevated to an ethereal level, one that didn’t necessarily define itself through religion, but rather, through a fierce sense of nationalism. My father’s love of Israel was connected to the adventure of creating this new land, and once that adventure tired, he moved on, away from his whole family to the strange new promising land of New York City, where he quickly met his American bride and headed further south to Venezuela, settling into the comfortable Latin American lifestyle of the 60’s. This is where he chose to raise his three girls.

And so, even though Israel was far from us geographically, it molded into our Venezuelan lifestyle and breathed through our pores day in and day out. Particularly in the food. We lived a Venezuelan culinary Zionism of sorts, where meals merged happily with Israeli salad and hummus alongside the fabulous pork products available in Venezuela: the sweet Pineapple Glazed ham prepared Christmastime, the succulent pernil asado (roasted pork loin) that was slow-roasted for New Year’s Eve slathered with port, mushrooms, rosemary garlic, and prunes (and a few other ingredients I swore to secrecy). And of course, there was my staple addiction: the chicharrones picantes (spicy fried pig skins) that was my favorite lunchtime snack.

So it would be safe to say we grew up nationalistic Jews, but most certainly not religious Jews, if that label is even possible. Maybe it was a repressed rebellion of my father, who time and time again would tell us the story of how, as a rambunctious adolescent, he managed to bring to his parent’s Jerusalem home a slab of bacon, much to the chagrin of his kosher father. My father must have been in his mid-forties when he first told my sisters and I this tale and his eyes still glimmered with mischief recounting that story.

So, when it came to eating at my non-Jewish friend’s houses, things could get kind of weird. Friends were cool with it, it was the parents that would wig out, trying to be sensitive, inclusive, careful, all the while completely clueless. What do these Jewish people eat? My friends and I would always laugh, for, anyone that knew me knew I ate pretty much anything and everything. I recall one time sitting down to dinner at a good friend’s house. Her mother was a fantastic cook and had placed a dish of piping pasta in front of us.

The family held hands to say grace (uncomfortable moment #1 for Mother as she suddenly realized I-don’t-do that) but she bit her upper lip and proceeded along. Once that was done with she opened her mouth in a relieved smile and pronounced “Okay, let’s eat! “ while scooping out steaming spoonfuls of a crimson linguine sparkling with pieces of salty pancetta.

My mouth was salivating. I was starving and this was one of my all time favorite dishes. But, as I was about to stuff a forkful into my mouth, I sensed an eerie silence and looked up to find my friend’s mother looking at me in utter horror. Before I could proceed, her eyes locked on me and she screeched:

“OH MY GOD! I’m so sorry. You people don’t eat that!!!”

My friend and I looked at each other in dismay, my pal blushing from embarrassment.

“Pasta, mom? She eats pasta.” A curt defense came my way.

“Oh but honey, it’s got bacon in it. Baaaacooooon”, she squealed as if she had cursed the air around us.

And with that, we burst out in a fit of laughter that only startled The Mother more.

“It’s not bacon ma’am. It’s pancetta,” I said. “Paaaanceeeeta”, I repeated, letting my 16-year-oldness get the better of me with this moment. My friend and I grinned and in unison eagerly dug in. “Oh yeah pancetta’s good with me, pancetta is good”, was all that came through eager slurps.

el cuento blogger de la pancetta

Creciendo como Judía en un país sudamericano predominantemente Católico tenía sus momentos de confusión. Había una iglesia en cada esquína y cada oración pareció terminarse con el sello Vaticano “sí Dios quiere”, y hasta entre las familias de mis amigos íntimos existía confusion, o al menos inquietud, con mis restricciones alimenticias como Judía.


Confieso que mi familia no facilito el tema.  Nunca atendimos una escuela religiosa, apenas visitabamos la sinagoga, no celebrabamos el viernes Shabbat; ningún ritual judío diario que abriría la conversación a lo que hacemos o no hacemos como Judíos.


Más bien, nuestra casa revolvía con la energía de un padre israelíta lleno de orgullo por su país y siempre hechando cuentos de la creación del estado de Israel y la participación fundamental que tuvo su padre, Isaac Abbady, quien trabajo como el traductor oficial para el Gobierno británico en Palestina en aquel entonces. De estas aventuaras de juventud mi padre siguó mas aventuras en Nueva York donde encontró a su novia americana y juntos viajaron a Venezuela, donde se adaptaron al estilo de vida latinoamericano cómodo de los años 60. Y fue allí donde criaron sus tres hijas.


Y aunque Israel fuera lejano de nosotros geográficamente, siempre vivía muy cerca de nosotros, particularmente en la comida. Vivímos un Sionismo culinario venezolano de clases, donde las comidas criollas se combinaron felizmente con la ensalada israelíta y el hummus junto a los productos de cerdo fabulosos disponibles en Venezuela: el jamón ahumado con piña dulce y clavos, la receta famosa (y secreta) del pernil asado que se cocinaba lentamente durante Nochebuena. Y por supuesto, había mi adicción básica: los chicharrones picantes que devoraba durante mis meriendas.


Así que podría decir que crecimos muy nacionalistas pero no necesariamente religiosos. Tal vez esto era una rebelión reprimida de mi padre, que nos contaba siempre la historia de como, siendo un adolescente bullicioso, logró traer a su casa en Jerusalén un trozo de tocino, mucho al disgusto de su padre kosher. Mi padre tenía mas de cuarenta años la primera vez que nos conto esto y sus ojos todavía brillaban tenuemente con la travesura de aquella historia.


Así que, a veces, comer en casas de amigos que no eran judíos podian complicar un poco las cosas. No por mis amigos, sino por sus padres, gente tratando de ser sensibles, globales, cuidadosos, todo el rato completamente despistados. ¿Qué come esta gente judía? Mis amigos y yo siempre nos reiríamos, ya que los que me conocían sabían que comía de todo.


Recuerdo una vez que fuí a comer donde una amiga. Su madre era una cocinera fantástica y había colocado un plato de pasta con pancetta delante de nosotros.  Mi boca salivaba. Tenía hambre y este era uno de mis platos favoritos. Pero, cuando estuve a punto de comer, presentí un silencio misterioso y alcé la vista para encontrar la madre de mi amiga que me miraba en horror completo. Antes de que yo pudiera proceder, ella chilló:


¡”AH DIOS MIO! Lo siento tanto. ¡¡Ustedes no comen esto!!!”


Mi amiga y yo nos miramos confundidas.


¿”Pasta, mamá? Ella come pasta.” Una defensa concisa vino mi camino por parte de mi amiga.


“Ah pero cariño, esto tiene tocineta. Tociiiinetaaaaaa”, ella chilló como si había blasfemado el aire alrededor de nosotros.


Y con esto, estallamos en un ataque de risa que sólo asustó a la Madre más.


“Esto no es tocineta, señora. Esto es pancetta,” le informé impacientemente. “Paaaanceeeeta”, repetí, dejando mis 16 años sentirse claramente.  Mi amiga y yo sonreímos  con una impaciencia hambrienta empezamos a comer susurrando entre tragadas, “Ah sí la pancetta me cae muy bien, muy, muy bien.”