Hazon Food Conference, Day 2

I am so vindicated. Gil Marks, Rabbi, Chef, Writer and literally a walking Encyclopedia (he wrote The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food!) told the crowd today that one only cooks with Italian flat leaf parsley. The curly kind is only for garnish. I have been saying this for years and I think there are a number of people in my life who thought I was crazy, a food snob, or both. Anyhoo, I’ll get back to Gil’s educational and fun session about Ethiopian cooking in a minute.

A yoga kind of morning

In the meantime, I started the day with Shelley Dembe’s yoga class. I’ve already purchased both her book about Yoga and Judaism, Wrestling with Yoga: Journey of a Jewish Soul and her Yoga Dance DVD. Can you tell she impressed me quickly? I was up at 5:30 for some crazy reason. No kids to wake me up so I wake myself up? Actually, I’m always saying that I am so much more rested when I don’t have electronics in my room. I think this was more proof. Retreat centers don’t have phones or televisions in the room. Of course now we all have our own phones and computers, making that partially irrelevant. However, the internet only works in the main lodge so one is still forced to socialize with others, rather than hole up with a screen, alone. The time sleeping without a cable box clock glaring in my face was precious!

I felt so good about keeping the commitment to myself to go to yoga this morning. I knew my morning was going to be quite crowded. I’m here to relax, right? Well, more to work, but in a chill way! I fought against my usual panic that I wasn’t going to be where I needed to be when I needed to be. Shelly started the class by telling everyone that it was Hatha Level 1. No one was here to prove anything and we should just stretch today and not try to prove ourselves. So often, in dance, yoga or exercise class, it is about showing off and judging other people. It was very relaxing to have a different tone set right way. She also suggested that as we talked to people today, we remember that they did not have the pleasure of starting their day with yoga, so we should give them some of what we got.

What did we get? She asked each member to keep in mind one thing they were going to take away. For me, it was this: We can’t connect to ourselves, without connecting to our bodies through physical exercise. Shelly reminded us, during her suggestions for us to be gentle and stretch, that yoga was not popular when most people were farmers. They didn’t need to do it. Now we use yoga and other exercise and spiritual practice as a way to repair what we do to our bodies all day at desk jobs. (Hmm…this was an ironic comment because of the dense concentration of Jewish farmers here, I wonder if there were actually any in the class this morning!). Shelly encouraged us to open up to where we were comfortable and then even pull back a touch.

This was a perfect start to a day at a conference where participants are absorbing information, creating connections and building community. It isn’t about the ego here or making judgments. It is about being gentle to the earth and of service to others. Reminding ourselves, as she did, that we are where we are supposed to be and we should be proud of ourselves for being there, created a real shift in me and, I hope, others. The morning class also helped me recover from sitting in the car so long yesterday!

Ethiopian Cooking by Gil Marks

So no pressure or anything, but Gil Marks taught his Ethiopian cooking class this morning in front of an attendee who was born in Ghandar! Avi, who moved to Israel when he was five and is now in the States, misses his mother’s cooking and appreciated the instruction he received from Marks, that he now regrets not getting from his mother.

I have never tasted such delicious cabbage and onions. Seriously. This is not your mother’s cabbage and onions. Unless you’re Avi from Ghandar anyway. My mouth was burning off, but that’s okay. Here are your fun facts, some interesting tangents and delicious tips from the session!

In Ethiopia, 90 to 95 percent of their diet is Injera, a spongy bread made from millet. They pile it up and top it with one of two main stews: Wot and Alicha. The difference? Chilies! In one of his humorous asides, Marks told us that for Ashkenazim, black pepper is charif (sharp, strong, spicy)! So true.

Ethiopian cooking calls for cooking onions DRY (high heat and then medium). They believe that it helps to break down the onions more before adding fat. Onions are the backbone of flavor and thickening for the stew. After the onions are softened, you add other ingredients.

As he reminded us not to put the garlic in too early or it will burn, Marks told us that almost all Jewish communities, no matter how far flung (except Persians), use garlic.

Ethiopians eat mostly vegetarian and seasonal. They enliven their dishes with spice, heat and cooking techniques.

Vegetarian asides

To support my theories of what a natural society should look like….Throughout history most Jews were impoverished. They didn’t put $20 worth of kosher meat in a cholent. They put in a bone! Gefilte fish was not majority fish. It was flavored with a bit of fish. He said he tried to show in Olive trees and Honey that throughout history, animals were kept because they were necessary for having future animals; eggs and milk; livelihood; and occasionally, eating the meat. Almost all of the karbanos (sacrifices in The Temple) were males under 1 years old; males being useless (no eggs or milk) or even harmful (fighting as they get older and more aggressive).

More fun asides: Jews may have invented Ricotta and Italian Jews have had a very strong influence over Italian cuisine in general.

Spicy food and being drunk all day…

Chilies are traditionally used in the south. Wherever you are – in the South. Beer and water make it worse when something is too spicy for you. Dairy and bread are what help. The main difference between Ethiopian Jewish and non-Jewish cuisine is kashrut. Therefore, Jews cannot put dairy on their bread (to cool down the spice) when they have meat, such as on Shabbat. Szechuan is an exception to the dairy (like Indian and Mexican) assistance for the spice, because it is a lactose-intolerant society.

Throughout history most cheese has been made with goat’s milk, not cow’s. (I think I also recently read that goat is the most consumed meat in the world, although you would not know that from living in the affluent Western world.) It is weird that Ethiopians use cow’s milk for cheese, almost exclusively. They DRINK goat’s milk. However, in a society where most people have goats and it is the main meat of the country, they rely on cow’s milk for most cheeses. Even in cow-centered Poland, most families had goats for milk to make cheese.

In Israel, talking about cholov and d’vash (milk and honey) meant goat’s milk cheese.

Our ancestors were drunk all day. They drank beer or wine, depending on whether wine was produced locally. In the United States, until the mid 1800’s, people drank hard cider. This was because there were rarely safe sources of water. Then, he said, two things happened: International trade took off and coffee and tea were promoted as new drinks. Second, The Industrial Revolution. You can’t have drunk workers in a factory all day. Not safe! That’s when the coffee break started to be promoted, I believe.

Stay tuned for delicious eggplant recipes with Joan Nathan!