Sunday, January 16, 2011

Food Prep and Jewish Meditation

Yom rishon, 11 Shevat 5771.  This posted is dedicated to Esther Nechama bat Sara Leah, among all of our holy cholim, that she and they should have a refua shelaima.



As I prepared for Shabbat this week, I thought of some of the simple things for which I am grateful.


There are meditative qualities available in the simplest actions.  Years ago I found that holding a clear glass with an egg up to the light, examining the egg for the tiniest trace of blood, connected me to Hashem in a unique way.  As if the act of raising up the glass to Heaven, peering at G-d through the mitzvah, so to speak, made baking challah a means of communication with my Creator.


Today in Israel, I still connect through the lens of the egg.  But there are other tasks that are uniquely Israeli.  Sifting flour is one that is widely known. 



And I get particular hana'ah seeing an Israeli mashgiach sorting lentils or grain.


 In America, my family ate pomegranate once a year, at Rosh Hashana.  It was shipped before it was ripe, and was rarely something to write home about.  Here, the delicious rimonim are ripe, sweet and full of juice for a long period of time; and baruch Hashem, they are plentiful.  


I have learned a trick of opening the rimon in a bowl of water (rather than slicing it on a board, thereby spilling high-staining juice everywhere), and gently separating the seeds from the delicate, lacy rind.  It is a long and careful process, like sorting rice or legumes, that gives me time to contemplate why I do these things with such care.


The heavy, juice-laden seed sacs sink to the bottom of the bowl, as the lighter husk and rind float to the top.

The rubies of the fruit family.

Voila!  Hashem delivers tiny drops of sweet pomegranate juice in individually-wrapped containers.

Preparing techina is another process I am able to do with love, enhanced by scientific fascination.  You start with a good-quality sesame paste. 

(This is determined by a taste-test:  There should be no bitter after-taste, and the sesame flavor should be rich and full.)  To this, I add a little lemon juice and water.  

Here's where the science comes in.  My favorite cookbook is Cookwise: The Hows & Whys of Succesful Cooking, by Shirley O. Corriher.  Due to the fact that Shirley doesn't have any reason to keep kosher, I cannot use all of her "230 Great-Tasting Recipes" -- but her science of the art of cooking makes fascinating reading.  While she does not speak specifically of techina, she has educated me enough that I know there is a molecular-bonding process going on as sesame paste actually thickens when water is stirred into it.  For some reason, this not only fascinates me, but reminds me of G-d's endless creativity. 

So, you stir and stir, and when the spoon or fork won't go anymore, you add water, a little at a time, and keep stirring.  


Eventually, this causes the molecules to let go of their vise-like grip on one another, so that a nice, smooth sauce is permitted to result.  



To this, I add garlic, za'atar, and a bit of salt.

I am sure there is Torah in here, at least a mashal or two.  But for now, I am contented to appreciate the science of G-d.

I don't know how much is my religious upbringing by Rabbi Nosson Sachs and Rabbi Menachem Goldberger and their dear rebbetzins, and how much is the nature of living in Israel -- or how much has to do with having grown children, which allows me time to put two thoughts together now and then.  But day-by-day, I find greater joy in finding ways to include Hashem in my internal Weltanshauung

Somehow, inviting G-d to every event highlights every corner of my life.

A special thank you to my blogging partner-in-crime, the Dearly Beloved, for photo assistance, advice, last-minute shopping and -- as always -- his invaluable editing.

Glossary:
Hana'ah: pleasure
Mashgiach: one who supervises preparation of food so that it accords with Jewish kosher standards
Rimon, rimonim (plural): pomegranate(s)
Techina: sesame seed butter
Za'atar: Middle-Eastern spice and herb combination of sesame seeds, sumac and hyssop
Mashal: example, in this case, referring to Torah insights
Weltanshauung: German word meaning "worldview" which, like many other things, is so much more beautiful when used in a Jewish way
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