(by Sigal Erez)
It was a week before the major coronavirus panic was about to hit. I went to the market, before the lines, before everyone believed that toilet paper would be so much needed. I was on the phone with my mother. "It’s good to have lots of pasta and tomato sauce,” she advised. “It’s easy to store, and it’s a filling meal, and maybe gas and water won’t be working.” Hah, good idea, Mom: My cart was already full of pasta, all kinds of pasta. A week later, there were lines at every market, with empty shelves, and I was home making, you guessed it, pasta. I got rather creative with the shapes and flavors.
My mom is now in the north of Israel, a beautiful and peaceful place called Migdal by the Sea of Galilee. Her five daughters are all over the world—one in Chile, one in England, one in Israel, one more with me in Los Angeles. My mother is a clean freak, and I inherited that trait from her, although my four sisters did not, and we have varying degrees of interest and skills in cooking. But we often use the kitchen to coordinate our times so we can all Zoom together. Before Covid-19, there was no urgency to call or do video chats. But this new scenario created uncertainty, especially for older people. Mom sounded and looked very sad, but when she was able to be with us virtually, her face lit up. The “diversity” of my innovative pastas—green, black, curly, slim—made her laugh. They are a bit like people, aren’t they?
I grew up in Israel, but my father was a seaman for 35 years, a Merchant Marine, working on a container ship. Being exposed to many cultures and foods, he brought the world to our table. Sometimes we got to travel with him during the summer (keep in mind, it was not a cruise ship). Perhaps I got my wanderlust from him. At age 18, I spent a year backpacking around the world with my boyfriend before coming to the United States—New York at first, to study acting. I had a student visa, one suitcase, and $5000 I’d made from modeling skin care products. I did not know a soul, but got roommates and part-time jobs at a boutique and at a restaurant as a hostess. One roommate designated two shelves in the refrigerator for me. When I called my family to share the details of my new life, they were shocked. In our culture, we all share; there is no such thing as my shelves/your shelves in the refrigerator.
I did not know how to find the Israeli community in Manhattan—it was 1990, no computer, no cell phone, only a landline with blinking lights indicating how many messages I’d received (lots from my worried mom). People at the local synagogue thought I was Puerto Rican (I’ve got some Moroccan heritage) and wondered why I wanted to go to services. I remember thinking: How ignorant are Jewish Americans? Don’t they know Jews come in all colors and from all over? We don’t all look like Bette Midler or Barbara Streisand. I was naïve in so many ways: I remember thinking I’d won a million dollar prize because Publishing Clearing House sent me a letter with my name perfectly spelled and a check. I did not have warm clothes, and winter was approaching, so I went out and bought an expensive coat, which I could not return, and was stuck with the credit card bill. Later I heard of many immigrants who fell into this trap.
Sometimes I hold spiritual gatherings at my house. We have Holocaust survivors in our family, and compared to that, nothing seems even remotely tragic. But I think it is a time to look inward, to look for meaning. I realized that we don’t need much. We have an abundance of food, clothing, everything. I hope many people feel the same and make meaningful changes, but we forget quickly and we resume normalcy fast.
My grandparents and parents taught us a mystical story about the cleft below the nose and above the lips called the philtrum. Legend has it that when we are born, an angel comes and places a finger on that space, letting us forget our knowledge as spirits, and imprinting us with the ability to begin our journey in this physical world, despite any disaster or tragedy we may suffer.
L’chaim. To life.
Covid Creative Pasta
1/2 c. light olive oil
1 clove, garlic, sliced thin
4 - 5 tomatoes, sliced
meat option: 1 package ground turkey or beef
vegan option: 1 package Beyond Meat
1 lb. shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 red peppers, diced
1 - 2 T. capers
1 1/2 c. tomato paste
2 c. water
Himalayan salt, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
Italian seasoning, to taste
2 bunches cilantro, chopped
1 lb. pasta (high in fiber, preferred)
In a large non stick frying pan, heat olive oil.
Add garlic and tomatoes, and cook, stirring, for several minutes.
Add optional turkey, beef, or meat substitute, and cook, stirring, until browned.
Add remaining ingredients except for cilantro, and continue cooking until mushrooms have softened, 12 - 15 minutes.
If sauce becomes too thick, add more water; if too thin, add more tomato paste.
Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente according to package directions, and drain.
Add cilantro to sauce, and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
Serve sauce over pasta.