Bread haunts me so.I am not supposed to eat it this week (a Passover thing) and so, it teases.And lures.And promises me I can’t live without it.
The scale reconfirms Jewish law:I can live without it (the scale insists for longer than one measly week).The rolls forming on my gut reconfirm that Jewish law and scale are correct (when did this happen?)But the bread, ah the bread, in all its glorious forms is insurmountable torture to go without.There are warm bagels sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and spread with generous seas of creamy cream cheese or ciabata bread, with its extra chewy crunch on the outside, torn open to reveal those craters of dough forming planet-like surfaces which beckon wild blueberry jam to get trapped and devoured in.And of course, let’s not forget the French epi loaf with thorns of golden crunch running up and down the captivating baguette like an edible spine.I am shameless with this loaf, leaving intellect behind, notions of carbs and calories and such; I just tear at these spines, ripping whole chunks of epi off their vine and devour them warm and whole, slathering the occasional hunk of butter or brie, if I have self-control or time or either. These are breads I can’t live without.
So, yes, the idea of a boxed cracker called matzo…well, pales in comparison.Don’t get me wrong. I look forward to the initial matzo meeting.There is nothing quite like a whole piece of matzo slathered with butter and a toxic sprinkling of salt.This is how my father taught me to eat matzo and almost anything else:butter and a toxic sprinkling of salt.Butter and salt is how the purists do it, the Israelis, or sabras:the real matzo men (and women).Other ways seem pointless after that.And I’ve tried: egg salad, peanut butter, chopped chicken liver.Some work.Some scream out for the real yeast deal.
I admit then that that first, second, even third piece of matzo was delightful, delicious, a real embracing of my Jewish roots and a straight shot back to my childhood, where, finding matzo in the Latin Catholic country of Venezuela was a feat in itself.But then pieces got stuck in my teeth.And I had to pick them out.And I felt I had eaten cement. Lots and lots of cement with butter.And horribly so, the charoset, that lovely Passover delicacy of dates, figs, apples, nuts and wine, ran out.That stuff does wonders to a piece of matzo.Right up there with the butter.But when I went dry on that, the matzo went awfully dry.
So somehow I found myself traveling to every bakery for every other possible thing one would get at a bakery:truffle mousse at Le Croissant Time, fresh pasta at Doris (strategically placed by their bakery),hazelnut coffee at the bagel shop.I knew this would not end well for me.I understood it was not fair to me.I have no self-control when it comes to food.None. Zero.It is not in my DNA like food and all things food is.Guilt riddles me somewhat, but then that wafting of warm dough sings and dances in my nostrils and I inevitably cave, like I did this Passover, like I did last.
I don’t go crazy on the bread:a fugitive sandwich in a darkened room, a warm bagel incognito in the car on the run.Abstract places for abstract delights.There is no outright celebration of all things yeast, but still, I can’t bear to turn them away, not even for the week.I hope to not have let anyone down:my rabbi, God, my scale.And so I keep the matzo box nearby, just so.And the butter is always soft.
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.”
I’m gone. Have up and left my fridge to its own devices as I recklessly and hungrily galavant throughout France, Israel and Spain for 2 weeks on a quest for incredible eats (and whatever may follow). I trust a good story or two will come out of my trips. Until then, make sure your fridge is as crazy-stocked as mine. And if it gets out of control (my tolerance is high): make soup.
Me he esfumado. Abandone mi nevera imprudentemente para escaparme a una aventura que recurira partes de Francia, Israel y España durante 2 semanas en búsqueda de comida inolvidable. Confío que un buen cuento o dos saldrá de mis viajes. Hasta entonces, asegúrense que su nevera este tan orgullosamente llena como la mía. Y si empieza a descontrolarse, (mi tolerancia es alta): usen todas las verduras para una sopa.