When I was only twelve, my grandparents, your great grandparents, took me on an almost one month trip to Israel and Italy. I have a clear memory of being asked if I wanted a full blown Bat Mitzvah or instead a trip to Israel with my grandparents. Typical of “clear memories” at twelve years old, I am not really sure if this went as described, however, I can’t imagine after seven years of Hebrew School and Sunday school, a Bat Mitzvah as the first grandchild of Isabelle and Herbie would have not been in the consideration pool. Frankly I am surprised I was given a voice like that, but I was considerably relieved because (if you can possibly imagine) the reason I didn’t want the Bat Mitzvah was because I didn’t want to get up in front of people and sing. I’m guessing this is funny to read because you know how much I love being in front of an audience. I love to speak publicly, so this may come as a surprise. The fact is though, this bright voice of mine as it is now was developed since that time and like most any pre teen with the notion of missing a few weeks of school, I jumped at the chance without a second thought.
What I didn’t know on my trip was that my parents were in the throws of their own despair trying to work out what would soon become the end of their marriage. I have no idea what my seven year old brother, Michael, your uncle you never physically knew, was witnessing as I was swimming in the Dead Sea and traipsing through Florence. Fast forward to your beautiful entry into our lives. I knew when you were born that my goal was to have you experience the same trip before or after the Bar Mitzvah I was surely not going to let you out of. The ironic thing was that I too was in the same despair my father was in as I contemplated the end of my own twenty year marriage. I really struggled with breaking up our family unit and I kept pushing the call to move on further out and away from any hard decision.
When an opportunity came up to be part of our friends, the Andreozzis, own family trip the November before your Bar Mitzvah, I jumped head first in. Of course I asked Dad knowing his response would be, “I am not going to Israel,” with that small town fear we so often hear when we talk about traveling there. I knew that would be his answer as I am sure you also understood and off we went for the first time not having Thanksgiving with Dad. He was so sweet about it though because he did understand how important this trip was to me and how important your Bar Mitzvah was too. As we traveled through Israel, we really had such an exciting time. I loved seeing your mind open to the world, to a different culture and language. I was so elated to see you and your friend, Chris jump into the different types of food and eagerly try Shawarma and lamb, hot peppers and the Hummus. Ahhh, the Hummus. Once one tries Israeli or any real Middle Eastern Hummus for that matter, it is virtually impossible to ever have store bought again.
I hope when you have your own kitchen, you will always make this from scratch remembering your trip to Israel as fondly. Even though the end of this trip was in many ways a deciding factor for the end of my marriage and your own family experience, as you had known it. I really hope you know that the decision was not entered lightly. Dad and I loved each other, we still do and we love you. We just were seldom a good fit as we both had such different ways we viewed life and our world. You though were the gem between us and we were always on the same page as parents. Food was one of our common denominators too and Dad’s recipes will be making a grand entrance in these writings. Dad and I still remain close as we always will when two grownups who act that way can be mature enough to take the good and leave the not so good at the door. Dad and I have done this and we hope that is your memory as you blast forward and falter backward in your own relationships.
The melding of two people for a long period of time takes lots of ingredients to work. When two people marry at 24 and 29, there is so much time ahead of them to work its way in with the inevitable changes that will occur. Your uncle Michael dying so young changed the way I viewed my world and it never went back. I think that some of this anguish made me look at life much more precariously and I lived with an attitude that had layers of young grief behind it. This, like life and time, is all because of the wisdom of retrospect; I never understood these changes as they were happening and likely Dad didn’t either. You, my love were both a distraction for us and a connector and I have not one regret of ever being married to Dad. I loved being married and I loved the wackiness of thinking that my hippie wild on the outside could live in a traditional role almost like a reparation for my own parents failure that I never really got over until I left too.
Marriage seems like a simple task when you are in love and planning a wedding at a young age. Once you get started in the early years, adjusting to the blend of two personalities, looking for a house, deciding on jobs and so on, the intricacies start to appear. Hummus is simple in its ingredients, but the blend has to be just right or else it can be bitter from the wrong olive oil, too garlicky by too much, bland by not just the right amount of spice or too sesame tasting by using too much Tahini or buying a generic one instead of an authentic. This, my love, is life; you play around with it, you season it, you leave stuff out, add too much of something else and then you end up with what you created by all of the ingredients. I can’t do life for you. Dad and I gave you the best foundation we could both together and apart and your job is to take what you need and leave the rest. I surely hope that we left you with a lot to take.
Like a good pesto, homemade Hummus (notice I capitalize it because it just deserves a capital H.) is food of the Gods. There are so many varieties, but I have perfected my own over time since our trip and this recipe I give you today is that joy. There is something magic about New York Pizza or Bagels, New Yorkers often say it’s the water. Israeli Hummus is the same. No matter how much I perfect my recipe, it never tastes like it does in Israel. Perhaps it is because once you go to Israel, it calls you back time and time again. Maybe it is the Hummus.
Traditional Hummus calls for chickpeas. Here is my note on the chickpea decision. If you can use fresh, please do. The great thing about fresh is once you cook them, they can be individually stored in containers or Ziploc baggies in the freezer, they keep for a few months easily and this will be your go to “can” for the next few batches. If you are in a pinch or craving Hummus, but don’t have time to make some fresh chickpeas, then a can will do, but always drain and rinse well before using.
Also a note on the Cuisinart- I have a clear memory of Grandma Ann buying her first one and it was kitchen changing. I have had the same one since I was married and I hope that mine ends up in your kitchen eventually. Like a great knife, you must have a good food processor and in my opinion, the Cuisinart is the best.
2–3 cloves of garlic
Fresh Herbs, a small handful (I use cilantro and parsley generally, but basil is nice too)
Chickpeas (about 1 overflowing cup)
Lemon, 1 freshly squeezed
Tahini, 1 heaping teaspoon of good Tahini (I always buy mine at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass., the best one I have used- Keep it in the refrigerator, it keeps for quite awhile)
Hot Sauce (I use Red’s) a few dashes
Olive Oil — a good one
Fresh ground salt and pepper
Zahtar, a generous teaspoon. (I have never made my own because the Zahtar at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass is so delicious, I always have a big container of this right on my counter)
I am giving you a more precise direction here, my love, to get you started, but truth be told, I am so familiar with this mixture, I throw everything into the Cuisinart in one pile and pulse away. Do the recipe as I list for your first run, then once you get used to it, follow my lead and trust that mixing everything together in one shot will be easier and just as delicious. This is also a great base. I have changed it up over time by adding artichokes, or roasted red peppers. There are so many possibilities and because your taste buds are trained well, trust your additions and your imagination.
Put garlic in Cuisinart and mince well. Add fresh herbs and pulse in with the garlic.
Add chickpeas, tahini, hot sauce and lemon and pulse until mixed.
Add olive oil until you get to the consistency you like. Start with about ¼ cup and keep adding until just right. Like lots of life decisions, this is a personal decision, you will get a feel for this the more you make the recipe.
Add Zahtar, salt and pepper and pulse a few times.
Now taste it and decide what it needs. More lemon? probably. More salt? Maybe. More hot sauce, be careful here, hot sauce in Hummus is for the background. Just play around with it until you get to the spot where you are transported back to Tel Aviv or our first meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. You’ll know.
I LOVE YOU