The Art of Simple Food

This morning's Israeli breakfast
This morning’s Israeli breakfast

For years as a food journalist, I pitched an article on Israeli breakfast to magazines and newspapers alike to no avail. Perhaps I told the story wrong. And so I will try to tell it right, here.

This morning, we arrived to the table with views of grapefruit and lime trees out the wide windows. The moshav inn (Shavit guest house in Arbel) sits in a mountain overlook, with the freshest cool air and the sounds of birds fluttering overhead.

In the night, the dog barked outside our window at a symphony of jackals in the distance, their own language. Stars glittered in the black sky.

The morning table held a plate of cheeses, cubed and thinly sliced; a plate of fruit arcs, kiwi, mango, orange and persimmon; fresh marmalade warmed under a tealight atop a ceramic pomegranate, and both grainy toast and garlic toast were ours for the taking.

imageThere was soft cheese and cream cheese, drizzled with olive oil. Avocado slices sprinkled with chunky salt. Fresh mango juice in martini glasses and a pitcher of hot mint tea, the mint leaves floating in the amber liquid.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers. A small bowl of plump capers with lemon. Yogurt, granola, honey. Shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomatoes) and scrambled eggs.

Have I missed anything? I’m sure I have.

This art of Israeli breakfast is one of abundance and simplicity at the same time.

The freshest ingredients from the verdant landscape outside my door, combined with the barest intervention, so that the flavors invigorate. No need to process or manufacture. It is about eating what is natural from the earth that gives it.

I am sure there are Israeli families who pour from boxes of cereal in the morning in a rush to get the kids to school and the parents to work. But I do not know them.

imageWhat I know of Israel is that there is no waste. Seventy percent of its precious water is recycled. Food comes from what grows in this soil, flavored with what grows in this soil, spices, herbs, freshness.

Honesty.

Lunch yesterday was late in the day after a frolic in the Dead Sea. We lunched at a road stop that offered camel rides and hot cooked food, sold with kindness and patience.

Chicken, burgers, hot dogs – in pita, with the many salads that appear at every meal.

There is something so heartwarming and reassuring about eating that which tastes natural. As if life is starting over, anew, with the comfort that all is in natural order.

I sometimes think that we Americans fall sick from our habits. The habit of eating from boxes and cans, in a rush, with flavors that come from unpronouncable ingredients.

We trust what we don’t know, and fall ill in the process. We let the current of progress take us along in its wake, never stopping to consider the consequences.

I know I don’t have to move halfway around the world to find simplicity. I should be able to find it right where I live. And I am going to try.

imageBut we can’t discount the influence of the culture around us. As I traipse along dirt paths and sip the coffees of Israel, my friends are posting about Christmas decorations and shopping and football games.

I could take to nature, go for hikes, immerse in walks in the woods at home, but I don’t. Instead, I get caught up in having to get things done, check things off my list, accomplish, acquire, pursue.

From social media posts all the way over here, I see a common story of competition – big box Black Friday vs. Small Business Saturday and Michigan vs. Ohio State. I’m not judging. I’m just observing.

We get lost in the culture around us because we cease to see it. We do what we know to do.

When we have the rare gift of distance to look on our patterns from a disconnected perch, only then can we assess and perhaps regroup. What happens when we never stop to contemplate? What happens when we let the tumult of pattern carry us on its path?

I wonder…Who wins?

And who loses?

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