Culinary 'klita'

Many times I have found myself buying something because of what it looks like on the package.

Next month will be the fifth anniversary of my aliya. My family and I will mark the milestone with other friends who also made aliya with Nefesh B'Nefesh the same day, celebrating our survival and our success. Odds are it will involve food, and odds are, too, that it will involve grilling meat - a time-honored Jewish tradition going back to the days of the Temple. There have been many jolts along the way, but with every bump we have successfully recalibrated the compass guiding our klita (absorption) and are not just very settled, but very much at home. The bumps have come, and still do come, in many shapes and sizes, and have a wide host of causes. There are culture clashes, language barriers, legal lessons, and some things that defy description or understanding. The bumps have been maddening, frustrating, byzantine, educational (though mostly not something we are aware of amid the frustration of the moment), inspiring and even funny (but usually after the fact). Klita and bumps in the road even involve food and shopping. Many times I have found myself buying something because of what it looks like on the package. In our first month we were living in a borrowed home, and much of the food we bought was prepared. One night I had bought frozen schnitzel for dinner. One of the kids said, "Abba, this tastes like fish." Among kids in my house, that is not a good thing. "Nonsense," I said. "It's not fish, its schnitzel. Just eat your dinner." But they were right, it did taste like fish, or at least unlike the schnitzel I was used to in the Old Country. So after dinner I looked at the package. Bingo. Schnitzel. Fish schnitzel. We never made that mistake again. ANOTHER TIME, my wife sent me shopping to pick up a few things. On the list, bleach. I could walk into just about any grocery store in the United States and find the bleach blindfolded. The gallon bottles are more or less uniform. I can see it in my mind's eye. But here not only did I not know what bleach was called (economica I learned later, go figure that one out), I didn't know what it looked like. How stupid I felt. So I roamed the store, looking in every aisle for what a bottle of bleach was supposed to look like. Three times in each aisle. Left to right. Right to left. Top to bottom. "Someone, please help," I thought, but I didn't know how to ask for bleach because I had no idea what it was called. By this point, I was feeling about as stupid as I have ever felt. Eventually - don't ask how because I am still not sure - I found it. But I am still scarred by the experience and confounded that bleach comes not in a one-gallon white plastic bottle like it's supposed to, but rather in a one-liter bottle. With the now-haunting name, economica. And I have never bought bleach again. I WAS not the only one making mistakes (er, having learning experiences) like this. My wife has done her share. Most of our kids, like most kids, like ketchup. So we have tried different brands. Some are more tasty than others. Some more liquid. There are ketchups that pass muster (pun intended) and definitely ketchups we'll never buy again. One night, the ketchup was out and we were eating dinner. Someone let out a scream. We had no idea what was going on until we discovered that here there is something known as spicy ketchup. It was probably the kid who called my schnitzel fish who got to learn that lesson. Serves him right. And while we have not made that mistake again either, there have been countless other learning experiences, some involving food and shopping, and some just about living here and interacting with Israelis in all walks of life. One of the best things happened most recently. My wife and I have the kids pretty well trained in some areas. Others still require improvement. Food related, the kids like dark-meat chicken and we like the white meat. That works well, except that the kids outnumber us 4:1 so we are still looking for a four-legged chicken. One staple of grilled meat here is pargiyot. These are like dark-meat chicken cutlets taken from the leg, or maybe the thigh. A good one, well seasoned and not overcooked, can be enjoyable even for a white-meat man such as myself. And you can buy pargiyot ready to serve, fresh or frozen on a wooden skewer, only requiring a good fire to make them perfect. So it was odd, and disappointing, some months ago when a package of skewered pargiyot seemed unusually fatty and chewy, even for kids trained to eat dark meat. We didn't finish them and I, usually the one to save leftovers, was insistent that they get dumped that night. Yuck. Recently, taking food out of the freezer to prepare for one of the year-end barbecues, my daughter yelled from the other room: "Ima, these aren't pargiyot. You got turkey testicles!" So this summer, we'll celebrate our aliya anniversary with a cold Goldstar in hand and friends gathered to reflect on how far we've come and how well-adjusted we are. Grilled meat and all kinds of fresh salads are bound to be in store. But, as my friends read this they just might be wondering what that "other dark meat" is on the wooden skewers that my kids are not eating, knowing that I'm not one to throw away perfectly good food, even turkey testicles. May we, the North American class of olim of 2004, all continue to have reasons for celebrating our klita with full, happy and meaningful lives, and may we all learn to read the label on food before grilling, serving or pouring on the condiments.