Sesame

It’s winter, but it doesn’t feel like it. In Florida, it rarely does. The temperature is in the 70s, the sun is shining. I am sweating beneath the shade of an old oak tree. I’m craving a reason to put socks on or perhaps even for a patch of snow on the ground. I think of the gray days I left behind in Maine, where I stopped over to visit two dear friends of mine. The long expanses of white, the leaden purple sky tinged with a peach that was meant to count as daylight. I wear my sweatshirt stubbornly, as if the clouds might roll in and save me.

The days are filled with simple tasks, the way vacation days should be. I drink tall cups of extra strong coffee, read the newspaper while our Dachshunds lace themselves around my feet in figure eights, and watch the neighborhood boys (no longer boys I suppose, most of them married with kids of their own) play round after round of half-court basketball. The squeak of their shoes against the slab concrete feels unerringly familiar.

When heat subsides a bit, I pull my tiny nephew around in the red Radio-Flyer wagon he got for Christmas, listening to the acorns crunching underneath the wheels. He sits up straight and grips the sides tightly with plump dimpled fingers. Most of the time, his seven-month-old face is masked in what could be wonder. I think he’s having fun, but it’s hard to tell. My father waves to him from his seat on the small terrace outside the kitchen. At one point, my nephew lifts his arm in what might be a wave, but his body flags in a way that makes me think of the drunken dance of a charmed cobra, and he grabs the rail again, his tiny fingernails white with the effort. He can’t sit up for long though, and as he loses energy, he begins to slowly slide down into the wagon until he’s a slightly crumpled heap. My sister picks him up again and repositions him. We roll on.

As we walk, I recount the items I have in the fridge to use before I leave: a tube of lemongrass paste (because I couldn’t find it fresh); a brick of red miso that made one meal and many dressings and still I couldn’t use it all; an unreasonably giant tub of tahini (because everything in America is extra large). I sift through memories of meals made and meals eaten, considering all the possibilities. I think of Israel.

Israel is a complicated place; there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to mind, I try to leave politics behind and think not of its complexities but of its simplicities. I remember the endless stretch of white sand beach in Tel Aviv, a heart-wrenching view out over the water in Jaffa.

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I think of the food that we had throughout our journey: the smoky eggplant dish my friend had in Nazareth; the crunchy warm balls of felafel we ate in Bethlehem; the best labne I’ve ever tasted from a perch overlooking the sea.

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Tahini

Today I battled the Boqueria, our most famous market, and came home with literal armfuls of herbs. Mint, dill, basil, parsley. More than I know what to do with. I also came home so hungry I could barely unpack my groceries. I made this salad in about 10 minutes flat. I call it my emergency salad.

Couscous Salad

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Serves 2

For the salad

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup pecans, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 bunch mint, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water

Add the olive oil to a small pot and heat over medium. Add the couscous and stir until coated. Heat until the couscous on the bottom is toasted. Add 1 cup water, turn off the heat and cover. Let sit 3 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Put the couscous in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, including the dressing, and mix well.

For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon
  • black pepper, optional

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, cumin and salt. Add the juice of the lemon. Whisk again. Add the zest of the lemon at the end. Add more salt to taste, if needed, and a few turns of the pepper grinder.