Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the Hills of God

Since I plan to start my Lifetime Reading Plan project on 1/1/11, I have spent the last couple of months stuffing myself with contemporary books that will be more-or-less off-limits once the new year begins.  Although I don't intend to discuss all that I have read here, I do want to mention a few of my favorites.  One of them is a book a friend lent me some time ago--some very long time ago.

I had postponed reading the novel.  It is a thick book with small print, and I kept saving it for a time when I would have long stretches of reading time to devote to it.  Well, as you know, "long stretches of reading time" and real life with a homeschooling son and an academic side life don't seem to be compatible.  So finally I just bit the bullet--and I am so glad I did!

On the Hills of GodOn the Hills of God, written by Ibrahim Fawal, is the story of seventeen-year-old Yousif Safi and his coming of age.  What makes the story so powerful is its setting: Palestine in the late 1940s, right as Zionism comes to the fore--and the creation of the state of Israel is about to happen.  This time of upheaval utterly transforms the world in which he and his family live.

Yousif is a Palestinian Christian.  His two closest friends are Amin (a Muslim) and Isaac (an introspective Jew).  When the book begins, it is clear that although the religious labels are in no way invisible, they do not completely separate people--people who all love the Palestinian lands of vast green hills full of olives and oranges and pines.

Soon, however, Yousif and his friends see Zionists surveying the land and beginning to create a separate society.  As things become more and more tense over time, violence begins to erupt.  A man from their hometown is killed by in a Zionist bombing in Jerusalem.  When Isaac's father attends the funeral, he is attacked--and soon his family comes under grave threat as well.  They move in with the Safi family, but things only get worse.  Eventually, they are forced to move away from the mixed community of Ardallah.  They settle in Tel Aviv.

After some time, a violent Zionist group stages an ambush in Ardallah.  When caught and unmasked by the town residents, one member of the group turns out to be Isaac.  He insists he was forced to join the mission.  The young man acknowledges that he is not innocent but he did not want kill anyone, and just as he was forced to come, he knows the Arab community will feel forced to kill him.  "We're all victims," Isaac realizes.  "We're caught in a war from which we can't escape. "

Yousif pleads for his friend's life--"Isaac is one of us!"--but his Arab townsmen respond with violent reciprocity.  When the doctor offers to sedate Yousif in order to ease his emotional turmoil, he refuses, saying, "I want to feel the pain."  And that is exactly what the author allows us to do.

How hard it is to avoid participating in discrimination--even violent acts of terrorism--when surrounded by a community declaring that others are evil and threatening!  Fawal shows how this is true for every side.  It isn't long before Yousif's world has been completely dismantled.  As he says, "Everything in this country seems to be soaked with blood."

It is heartbreaking to see Yousif defend his beliefs that all--Muslim, Christian, and Jewish--should act as family.  He seems to believe that if he tries hard enough, the people of the Palestinian lands could act that way  again and create a community built on love and reconciliation.  As he says, "One can always fight. But first, let's try talking to them. I don't think the average Jew likes what's happening. We lived together like good neighbors. They were happy and we were happy. Why can't we just go on like before?"

What happens next is the story of the Nakba--that is, the "great catastrophe" or "Palestinian Exodus" where 700,000 Arabs (Christian and Muslim) experienced the humiliation of occupation and were eventually pushed out of their homes and lands.  It is a horrifying story that startlingly few Americans seem to know about at all.  Every time I think of it, I can't help but say that modern Jewish prayer: "Never forget."  And as you know, this is a story with no happy ending.  There are still Palestinians living in refugee camps and in exile--still separated from their homeland and from each other.

As the book begins to come to a close with Yousif's world in tatters around him, he even loses some of the faith he had grown up with.  He questions the goodness of his Christian God: "If you would allow your own son to be nailed and stabbed, if you would let his legs be broken, if you would let him die on the cross like a common criminal, you'd probably let our homes burn to the ground.  If that's the way you'd treat your own son, to whom should we Palestinians turn for protection?"

Despite all the destruction, the book ends on a note of hope and resolve.  "The conscience of the world must be pricked, awakened," say Yousif.  This is what the author seeks to do himself.  "I promise you this for the sake of all of us who have been dispossessed--the families who have been denied their birthright and are now separated, the children who can't sleep because they're hungry, the babies who journeyed and died from thirst, the dead we left along the trail.  Let this moon, which is staring at us like a grave one-eyed God, be my witness: we shall be delivered.  We shall return."

*  *  *

I am Jewish--albeit an atheist Jew--who is too moved by my Judaism-informed beliefs about justice and righteousness to accept what happened "on the hills of God" during this period--or accept what is happening there now.

Although I don't remember for sure, I suspect my friend lent me this book when we were talking about the deeply compassionate (and perhaps even politically feasible, although I know many of you will disagree) argument made in Virginia Tilley's The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock--a one-state solution that is a true and multi-ethnic democracy.

On the Hills of God is a book meant for all people--those who love the land of Palestine and Israel (be they Jewish, Christian, or Muslim) and those who are new to the story.  It picks no fights and is completely accessible to any reader with a heart, no matter what their politics.  A must-read.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Starting Fresh

Dear Readers,

This blog started as a knitting blog way back in the day, before the birth of Ravelry.  It morphed into a food-and-gardening blog.  And I've always talked about books, parenting a homeschooled child, religion and disbelief, and anything else that crossed my mind.  For the past two years, I've had mixed feelings about the unfocused approach.  I liked being able to write about whatever I was thinking, but I also knew that there were times when a bit more form might create a better blog.

With that in mind, I am putting this blog aside (at least for the time being) and starting anew.  Please join me at Lifetime Reading Plan.

Recently I've been thinking about all the books I want to read, and all the books that I feel I should have already read. Over at Lifetime Reading Plan, I'll write about books, their contexts, and my reactions--beginning with Gilgamesh and the Ancient Greeks, and heading forward through time, hitting everything from Chaucer to Tolstoy to Proust. I would love to have some reading companions who would like to read some of these books with me!

I'm currently making book lists and checking them twice, although I'm sure the plan will grow and change as time goes by. Although I plan to write up some preliminary information about my project soon, the reading will really get underway on 1/1/11.

In addition, I'll be writing roughly once a week over at Food, Glorious Food. This spot will be primarily a place for me to write out a weekly menu for my family. Occasionally I'll share a home-developed recipe, a picture of our kitchen garden, or a cookbook review. If you're eager to know what we are planning to eat, you're welcome to come on over--but Food, Glorious Food will be primarily an organization device for my family.

I hope to see you all soon. Thanks for all the time here. It has been a wonderful pleasure.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I've been ill for the last few weeks, too tired to do much thinking.  Meal plans have gotten us through.  If I did not have them planned, I would have begged for take-out almost every evening, I think.

So here goes:

Stuffed baked potatoes with mustard greens and New Zealand spinach from our garden, as well as asparagus and garlic scapes from the local farmers market.  Topped with sour cream from our Amish dairy source.

(Inspired by the offerings at a neighboring farmers market)
Stinging Nettles Soup
Rabbit, Hunter Style
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble (with a gluten-free topping made with oats and coconut flour)

Chickpea Curry with Turnip Greens and Radishes (both from the garden), served over brown basmati
Cardamom Ice Cream (from the farmers market)
Cocktail of the week: Gin and Tonics

Potluck party with some gluten-free and some vegan folks.  Take a millet/black bean/mustard greens/sweet potato salad?  Improvise with whatever comes in our first CSA box of the season.

Rice Pasta with any veggies in the fridge or garden
Assorted Salad Greens

(Sa and Su--out of town)

Check out more meal plans at Menu Plan Monday and Mindful Menus.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gluten-Free from the Garden

Time for our weekly menu again.  Actually, past time...

Three things shape this week's plan:

1. As I mentioned yesterday, I am trying a gluten-free diet for a few weeks.  (I started last week, after I had already written the week's menu.  I kept the same general plan but changed things to GF bread on Monday and rice-flax pasta on Saturday.)

2. The garden is bursting with salad and cooking greens.

3.) Perhaps because the end of the semester is coming up, we have a tremendously busy evening schedule all week--fairly unusual for us.

*  *  *

Totally Inauthentic and Random Vegetarian Bibimpap
   (I stir-fried homegrown turnip greens, chopped radishes, leftover quinoa, a lot of slightly spicy sauerkraut, and sesame seeds.  Then I fried eggs on the top of the mixture.  We served these with helpings of hot pepper paste to stir in.)

Enchiladas (with locally-made corn tortillas) filled with leftover roasted chicken, stir-fried homegrown broccoli rapini, and goat cheese, topped with mild tomato salsa.

Assorted Salad Greens from the garden
Flank Steak with Chimichuri
Roasted Carrots (currently drying up in the fridge)
Strawberries (from the farmer's market) with Balsamic Reduction
(Cocktail of the week: Mojitos with Homegrown Mint)

(Before violin group class)
rice crackers with goat cheese
(After violin)
Back at home: Indian-style chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and homegrown mustard greens, served over millet

Picnic at an outdoor performance of The Mikado
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Sushi
Summer Rolls with Shrimp
Tamari Rice Crackers

Party at the home of one of David's colleagues,
then a dinner-date with D. while our son is at a friend's sleepover
(We might make this a meal at home, depending on time)

Appetizers at the Scottish Pub (where we'll be for the Fiddle Session--son on violin)
Brown Rice Pasta with homegrown Arugula Pesto

*  *  *

Check out more meal plans at Menu Plan Monday and Mindful Menus.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gluten-Free Girl

I loved Shauna James Ahern's book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back...And How You Can Too. (If you don't know her blog, make sure you check out her regular posts, too.)  I don't have celiac disease, but I felt an enormous connection with Shauna as I read. Sometimes the difficult things we go through in this life help shape our future in a beautiful way. My own health issue led me towards interests and relationships that I am not sure would have developed without the crisis. It is impossible to imagine what my life would have been had I not been hospitalized, but I have trouble imagining that it would have been nearly as rich as it is. For Ahern, a diagnosis of celiac disease and the resulting need to follow a gluten free diet led her to learn to appreciate food and cooking in a whole new and beautiful way.  I love the attitude  that allows Ahern to write that "going gluten-free has guided me to think about how to eat locally, choose organic, and experience every tast I take more vividly.  It has been a gift."  (I think I have a bit more anger and mourning about my own medical crisis, but I get where she is coming from, too.)  As she writes later, "Do we need a death sentence to allow ourselves to truly taste our lives?"

Although my own health issues had little impact on my food commitments, my tastes were transformed and shaped in several similar ways. Early in her life, Ahern picked up a copy of Laurel's Kitchen,--one of the first whole-grain vegetarian books that shaped America in the 1970s. "In the privacy of my bedroom, I read it, chapters at a time....Mostly I devoured the introduction, which welcomed me into the kitchens of these women as the authors baked bread meditatively, talked about politics and how to raise their families, and made everything from scratch," writes Shauna. "Their world seemed much more at peace than mine, even though they were discussing the worst pertubations of society. They were doing something about it--rebelling--by making their own food." She concludes: "I wanted to be in that kitchen."

For me, I stumbled across Laurel's right as I was learning to cook for myself, when I entered graduate school and left the college cafeteria. I had just finished Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, a book that had a profound influence on me. At the time I did not know that there were alternatives to the grain-fed meat that was so unjust to the poor of this world. Although I had eaten a vegetarian diet in college to avoid the mystery meat in the school cafeteria, I now became a vegetarian with political commitment. Laurel's Kitchen, along with the absolutely classic Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzan, taught me to cook with my politics in mind. (For those who take my vegetarianism as literal, I should tell you I always ate meat at my parents' house--and in fact usually I ate a meat without a word of protest at the homes of others who were gracious enough to offer to cook for me. At other times, I told people I "ate mostly vegetarian." When one's goals are about justice to the people of the world--rather than animal rights--it doesn't seem quite as hypocritical to make these kinds of exceptions.)

Interestingly, like me, with time, Ahern eventually broadened her diet to include a little sustainable meat--while retaining or even sharpening her politics.  So have some famous vegetarian chefs, including Mollie Katzan and the incomparable Deborah Madison.

Ahern is a talented writer, whose book is very hard to put down.  It includes a few recipes.  (So far, we've tried out her delicious chicken with pomegranate sauce recipe, and the deep roasted cauliflower with paprika and cocoa.  Yummy!)

gluten free girl recipes

Perhaps the best part of the book is its end.  While I'm often irritated with books about strong women that end with marriage, Shauna Ahern totally pulls it off.  She tells a story of her tattoo (I won't give it away) that sets it up.  The story is beautiful, funny, romantic in ways few books are, charming, and utterly inspiring.  She and her husband ("The Chef") are coming out with a cookbook together this fall: Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.  I can't wait!

The surprise ending to this story is that after reading this book along with another (which I will review soon), I decided to try out a gluten-free diet for a few weeks in hopes that it might help some auto-immune issues that have flared recently.  So far, I'm not sure if the diet is helping or if I am just getting a bit better from this flare, or if I had some little illness other than autoimmune stuff.  We'll see.  More details forthcoming about my experiences eating gluten-free.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Words

These and other photos here. Also check out SkyTruth and's oil spill page.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Find and Reuse

Here in Takoma Park, Mother's Day weekend filled with sunshine and yard sales.

Finds of the weekend:

1. A handwoven hand-dyed mudcloth from Mali, perfect for our dining room table. We found this at a yard sale. The family had bought it a dozen years ago when they were traveling in Africa.


(Oops--I guess it is actually "hand-died")

Mudcloth 'Died'

2. Metal champagne flutes. Since I saw Beth's stainless steel wineglasses over at Fake Plastic Fish, I've been coveting something like these for our picnic basket. We found these at a community yard sale on the grounds of the library. Proceeds went to help finance the local Independence Day celebration.

metal champagne

We put the glasses to use Sunday morning, drinking mimosas in bed as we ate croissants and read the newspaper. (This is an old tradition that David and I had, but only recently is it one that our son could enjoy as well. Granted, his mimosa had seltzer instead of champagne, and he enjoys the comics more than the book section.)

3. A gorgeous cake plate. I'd been dreaming about cake plates all week, ever since I ran across the lovely examples over at This Week for Dinner.

cakeplate 1

cakeplate 2

I'm not sure this one should count as a thrifting find, since David found it in our basement, filled with things from his grandmothers which we have not really unpacked since we got them a dozen years ago.  I'm so pleased it is finally joining us upstairs!

Check out some other great thrift store finds over at Thrift Share Monday and at Thrifty Treasures.


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