Balancing our evolutionary and biological realities

I haven’t written as much on the Torah portions after two years of working pretty steadily at them. With my focus on the relationship between human beings and other animals, it was inevitable that I would have to struggle with the “meaning” of animal sacrifice.

What was sacrifice supposed to accomplish? How did people feel as they prepared an animal for sacrifice? As they experienced sacrifice as a non-priest? Saw the sight of a terrified animal slaughtered, dissected and burned? There is no way to construe a sacrifice as anything other than a violent act — yet it is presented as drawing close to G-d.” How can I reconcile these things?

Some source-critical examination (a technique I don’t usually favor) helped me some with this problem but in the process caused me even greater difficulty. So did an article I read recently about Passover and the Levites, which inspired a post I have not yet finished.

But I have also turned to looking at the problem through a different lens, the lens of evolutionary biology, and amazingly, it is beginning to give me a new appreciation for the insights of the Torah and rabbinic tradition. I will write a post about this eventually too.

For now, I just want to mention some books that have been very important to me in this journey: Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Barbara King’s Personalities on our Plate, and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus.

Most recently I’m reading Not So Different: Finding Human Nature In Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Just to give you a sense of the topics covered, the chapter headings are: Why do we play? Animal systems of justice, Moral animals, Sexual politics, Do animals fall in love?, The agony of grief, Jealous beasts: the darker side of love, Darker still (envy, greed and power), Afraid of the dark, The richness of animal communication.

This isn’t an esoteric pursuit for me. I don’t believe we evolve beyond our basic evolutionary and biological realities. I don’t believe we are “saved” from who we are through faith except to the extent that it encourages a constant practice rooted in balancing these evolutionary drives. And although I read and appreciated Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, I don’t think it deals (or to be fair, intended to deal) with the reality of who we are as human beings and the sustainability of a culture that sets as its highest value the harmonious well-being of all life. Yes, we may have a lower rate of violence progressively through history, at least superficially and temporarily, we may be more educated and have a lower rate of poverty. All indicators may, statistically speaking, be better, but I think I could make an argument it’s not as a result of human nature evolving, and therefore I don’t trust its sustainability.

Human nature is what it is — and every religious culture and many non-religious cultures seek and present us with ways to deal with the reality of human nature and guide us toward something more than the cycle of prey and predator, something more than acting mindlessly or on instinct. These considerations seem particularly relevant today when the world is gripped — in mythic terms — by the darker side of our nature.

Every culture, every ideology, every religion demonstrates that in particular conditions, groups will arise that generate “other” hatred and violence and display and encourage an utter lack of empathy. I believe that attachment to one’s group and what goes along with that — asserting superiority over other groups, feeling and acting dismissively toward the needs of other groups, and ultimately violence toward other groups, including non-human animals — is rooted in our evolution and biology. But so is cooperation and empathy — among both humans and non-human animals. Not So Different helped connect me to the science behind what I perceive and gives me a new appreciation for the insights of the Torah.

I hope I have time in my life to study how each religion offers opportunities to work with the reality of who we are as human beings and shapes and educates us to maintain a world-sustaining balance. The chances are good, though, that I will only have time to explore this issue in the kind of depth I would like in the framework of my chosen religion, Judaism. I may not even get past the Bible with that. In fact, I may not even get past the first five books, the Torah.

But no matter how far I’m able to follow this line of study, one thing is clear to me: the darkness that many of us feel in the world today with right wing populism ascendant is the result of giving precedence and unfettered freedom to a biological drive toward greed and an us-them mentality. It is the failure to balance that survival-centered drive with other biological realities like group cooperation and empathy that ultimately leads to violence. This is not a problem of the “right” or the “left,” though, or of any particular religion or culture. It is an imbalance that can occur within any human being and within any society or religion or ideology.

The antidote to violence and hatred in the world is cooperation and empathy, taught and nurtured through daily experience and practice. And what my religion teaches me is a mindful practice that takes us on a path between the extremes, between the drive for self-preservation and the drive toward cooperation and empathy. There is a way we can strive not toward perfection but toward a balance based on realities of human nature the Torah intuited and science now proves.

Hummus with my Instant Pot

Many evenings, Andy and I just prefer to snack for dinner. Hummus is always a sure hit. This time I tried it with my Instant Pot. The only cooked part is the dried chickpeas, but my Instant Pot makes Hummus-making a great spur-of-the-moment dinner-snack.

I also tried out a new technique for super smooth hummus like the restaurants make. It worked great! This hummus was amazing. Read on for the hint . . .

Ingredients

  • Dried chickpeas, 1 lb.
  • Garlic, 2 tsp. or 2 lg. cloves
  • Tahina, 1 cup
  • Lemons, 1/2 cup juice, about 2 lg. lemons
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
  • Bean liquid, 1- 2 cups, depending on how much water beans absorbed during cooking (dilute bean liquid with water if too strong)
  • Sea salt, 2 scant tsp
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1 tsp.

Directions

  1. Rinse the chickpeas, and place in a wire mesh insert in the Instant Pot. If you don’t have a wire mesh insert, just place them directly into the pot. Add three quarts of water, close the lid and vent and Pressure for one hour.
  2. Perform a Quick Release . . . or release the pressure naturally. Either way is fine. These beans can’t really get too soft.
  3. Remove the wire mesh basket with the chickpeas from the Instant Pot, drain, and place in a bowl in the sink. Reserve the bean cooking liquid that remains in the Instant Pot.
  4. Hint for beautiful, smooth hummus: Run cold water into the chickpea bowl and rub the chickpeas between your hands as the bowl fills and the water continues to run slowly. The chickpeas should remain at the bottom of the bowl, and the “skins” will float to the top where you can scoop them up and remove them. You might have to help this process along a little, but you should be able to remove most of the skins. It’s worth it!!
  5. Drain the chickpeas again and place in the food processor.
  6. Reserve the bean cooking liquid that remains in the Instant Pot.
  7. Add all other ingredients except reserved bean liquid to the food processor bowl (garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, tahina, seasonings).
  8. Pulse and blend briefly.
  9. Measure two cups of the reserved bean liquid.
  10. Begin adding bean liquid as the processor is running, , through the feed tube. Keep an eye on the consistency. It will thicken as it cools, but it’s easier to add liquid later than to add too much now and have liquidy hummus.
  11. When desired consistency is reached, let processor run for 2-5 minutes more to make the hummus as smooth as possible.
  12. Remove hummus from processor, put on a plate, garnish with olive oil, parsley, paprika, sumac, za’atar or additional chickpeas as desired.

I was in the mood for homemade bread with my hummus and happened to have my Spelt Ciabatta rising on the counter for a couple of days. I forgot that I meant to use more liquid this time in relation to the flours, but it was good anyway, with a nice sourdough kind of aroma and flavor. The bread is so incredibly easy that it occurred to me I should just keep one going so I can pop some into my Dutch Oven a couple of times a week to enjoy with whatever we’re eating. Rolling it in a mix of seeds would also make an interesting variation.

Oh, and one more tip — that leftover chickpea cooking liquid you have? Try making Aquafaba. Whip the chickpea juice until it makes white peaks, just like whipped egg whites. And then let your imagination go to work on ways you can use it for desserts, matzah balls, whatever.

Creamy (Vegan) Mushroom Soup

I have more time at home these days with Covid-19 floating around. I kind of like not having to go out, not having deadlines, just enjoying the people who share our home with me. I’m walking more, cooking more, and I’m contemplating reading a book. A print book. I’m also looking forward to more time researching and writing the book I’m working on.

For now, I’m going to share something I made last evening. I wanted to try out a new product I just got in my Imperfect Foods box this week, Forager Project Organic Dairy-free Cashewmilk Yogurt. But first, before the recipe, I want to recommend two things.

Imperfect Foods. Awesome company. They have added quite a few products beyond fresh produce to their line since I started with them, and I now get almost everything we eat from them at a lower price than in the stores. Doorstep deliveries with single-use disposable gloves are especially nice right now when we aren’t going into public spaces.

Forager Project. Awesome product, their yogurt. I’m really picky about these things, and the yogurt tasted just like the dairy version. Better in fact. And it has the same healthy profile with live active cultures. And unlike most commercial yogurts, no distressing additives. They have a sour cream, which I’ll try — and I just emailed them to ask if they might consider developing Labne, a thick, spreadable Middle Eastern yogurt that I miss terribly.

Creamy (Vegan) Mushroom Soup

I used my Instant Pot for part of this soup, but it’s not essential. Just speeds things up a little if that’s desirable. This recipe made about a quart and a half of soup, just right for Andy and me to polish off last evening.

Ingredients

  • Mushrooms, 8 oz. (mine were fresh, but dried mushrooms would work very well)
  • Celery, four stalks
  • Onion, large, one half
  • Spinach, one very large handful
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 3 TB*
  • Flour, 2 TB*
  • Water, 6 cups
  • Salt, 1-2 tsp.
  • Forager Project Cashewmilk Yogurt, 1 cup

Instructions

Wash all the veggies. Dice the celery by cutting lengthwise 2-3 times on each stalk, then across the strands at 1/4” intervals. Petite dice or mince the onion. Chop the spinach. Slice the mushrooms.

Sauté the mushrooms in 1 TB olive oil at medium-high heat until they start to brown slightly. Remove them from the pan, and deglaze the pan, reserving the mushroom liquid.

Sauté the onion and celery in the Instant Pot briefly, add 1 tsp. of the salt and 5 cups of the water. Cancel Sauté on the Instant Pot, close the lid and vent, and turn it on Pressure for about 10 minutes. Do a quick release. Cancel Pressure.

Remove the mushroom deglazing liquid from the pan into a measuring cup and add more water to reach one cup. Set aside. Add the remaining 2 TB olive oil to the pan and 2 TB of flour for a roux. Stir continually as you add the cup of liquid from the measuring cup, and whisk if needed. Whisk the roux into the soup in the Instant Pot. *

Add the chopped spinach to the soup, stir, and adjust the seasoning, adding as much as another teaspoon of salt if needed.

Place a cup of the Cashewmilk Yogurt in a bowl, and slowly whisk in some of the hot soup, at least 1-2 cups. This process prevents separation. Stir this mixture back into the soup.

Check the seasoning again, stir in some of the mushrooms and sprinkle some over the top of the bowl. Serve and enjoy!

* Next time I make this soup, instead of a roux, I’ll skip that step and leave out those 2 TB extra virgin olive oil. I’ll use that cup of water to pressure a peeled diced potato in the Instant Pot for ten minutes, mash the potato — then remove the thickened liquid and set it aside. I’ll add it back into the soup after I sauté the onion and celery and pressure them with the five cups of water. This should thicken the soup nicely.

Instant Pot! Israeli White Bean Soup

Israeli White Bean Soup

This is another of my old favorites that I reworked for my Instant Pot. Although I already halved the recipe from what I made in the Cafe, I had to halve it again to fit my pot. It should now actually make a gallon (I mistakenly indicated it would make a gallon in the original recipe).

ISRAELI WHITE BEAN SOUP FOR THE INSTANT POT

Ingredients 

  • Olive Oil, 2 TB – 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 2 large cloves, minced
  • Spanish onion, 1/2 lg, petite diced
  • Celery, 1 (lg) or 2 regular stalks, bias cut
  • Carrots, 1 (lg) or 2 regular, bias cut
  • Potatoes, 3 size “A” potatoes, 1″ dice, skin on
  • Cumin, 1/2 TB
  • Tomato, 4 lg plum tomatoes, petite diced, or one  19 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • Tomato Paste,  2 level TB or to desired thickness
  • Salt, 2 tsp or to taste
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1/2 tsp
  • Cilantro, 1/2 bunch, chopped
  • White beans (Navy Pea Beans or Canellini), 1 lb. dried
  • Water, 2 quarts to start

Directions

  1. Rinse beans well, and put into Instant Pot with 2 quarts water. Close the lid and vent, and Pressure the beans for 15 minutes.
  2. At the end of the cooking time, hit Cancel, and do a Quick Release. Remove the beans with their water to a bowl and set aside.
  3. While the beans are cooking, mince the garlic, petite dice or chop the onion, slice the celery and carrots on the bias, and cut the potato into 1” chunks. If using fresh tomatoes, petite dice the tomatoes.
  4. When the veggies are ready and the beans with their liquid removed from the Instant Pot, add olive oil to the pot.
  5. Set Instant Pot to Sauté and add the minced garlic. Stir briefly.
  6. Add the onions next, and saute until soft, then the carrots and celery. Sauté, stirring, for a moment or two longer.
  7. Add the potatoes to the pot along with the petite diced tomatoes and reserved  beans and cooking liquid, and 2 TB of the tomato paste. Leave the Instant Pot on Sauté to bring the mixture to a simmer.
  8. While waiting for the mixture to come to a simmer, add the seasonings: cumin, salt, hot paprika.
  9. Cancel Sauté. Put the lid on the IP and close the vent. Set to Pressure for 15 minutes.
  10. At the end of the cooking time, hit Cancel, and do a Quick Release.
  11. Check the consistency of the soup. When finished, the soup should be thick with veggies and beans but with enough broth to be soup. Add remaining TB of tomato paste if desired, more water if desired, and adjust the seasoning.
  12. Check the consistency of the potatoes and beans, which should be tender (usually Cannellini beans cook fairly quickly). If needed, set the pot to Sauté, cover and select either Sauté to continue cooking at a more rapid rate or Keep Warm to continue at a slower rate. I like to cover it with my glass Instant Pot lid at this point so I can see what’s happening.
  13. When the soup is ready, either Cancel or Keep Warm (if you’re not eating immediately). Add chopped cilantro — and serve and enjoy.

P.S. If you need to thin the soup, just add water at the end of cooking (or when you reheat after storage) until it reaches the consistency you like. You will probably need to adjust the salt as well.

Where do we fit?

I’m interested these days in the relationship between human beings and other animals, how we fit into the fabric of nature, how we managed to get from a mediocre position in the food chain to top spot, and what we have done with that position.

Today I was thinking about two traits that seem to me distinctively human and wondered if I could disprove that theory or if they are indeed defining traits: greed and wastefulness. I found this very interesting article on wolverines that suggests greed, at least, is not limited to human beings: “Wolverines Give Insight Into The Evolution of Greed.”

I can find nothing about wastefulness among other animals, although there’s plenty about the appalling 30-40% waste in the human world. I imagine this either means that no one has researched this particular issue — or that there’s nothing to research, that is, animals don’t typically waste. If anyone finds an article or a report on some research, I’d appreciate knowing about it. You can email me at leslie@vegetatingwithleslie.org or share to my Facebook page. 

On the theme of more desirable traits, Sierra Club featured this beautiful article in their March / April 2019 issue: “Does A Bear Think In The Woods?”

A side note: in the past five years, there have been more than 190,000 publications about various aspects of animal intelligence.

 

Quinoa and Veggies Teriyaki – Instant Pot

At least once a day I comment how much I love my Instant Pot . . . every time I open it up to throw in some beautiful organic whole food items and anticipate something yummy in a few minutes. And it’s so easy to clean!

So I used this technique once when I had a bunch of summer squash and peppers I needed to use up. This time I just had peppers — the pretty little multi-colored mini-peppers. Since the dish was a hit at my house the first time, I decided to make it again with just peppers. And it was good again — but I don’t have exact measurements, just a picture.

Quinoa & Veggies Teriyaki – Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
  • Garlic, 2 large cloves
  • Onion, one large
  • Mini-peppers, 1 lb. bag
  • Quinoa, one cup dried
  • Water, 2-1/2 cups
  • Salt, 2-3 tsp.
  • Teriyaki sauce, 1/4-1/2 cup

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: mince the garlic, slice the onion into pie-shaped wedges and break apart or petite dice, remove stems from peppers and cut in half.
  2. Add the quinoa, 2 cups of water (the additional half cup or so is for making the sauce the veggies cook in) and 2 tsp. salt to the Instant Pot, set to Pressure, close the lid and vent, and Pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
  3. Spoon the quinoa into a serving bowl.
  4. Cancel Pressure. Set the IP on Saute for a few minutes. Add the olive oil to the pot along with the minced garlic and onion. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the peppers and continue to saute for a minute or two  more.
  5. Add 1/2 cup water to the veggies in the IP with 1/4-1/2 cup teriyaki sauce. Put the lid on (I used a see-through IP lid for this part) and Steam for a couple of minutes until the veggies reach the degree of softness you prefer.
  6. Be sure the veggies are plenty saucy. If you need to, add more water and teriyaki sauce as they cook.
  7. When done, adjust the seasoning with a little more salt if needed.
  8. Spoon the veggies and sauce over the waiting quinoa.

Although we like the veggie and quinoa fresh out of the Instant Pot, this dish is fine cold as well.

Instant Pot Cauliflower and Broccoli Curry Soup

I got a little behind on the broccoli from my CSA box this week and had to use that and the head of cauliflower I received as well. I found what looked like a quick and easy recipe on Pinterest, made a couple of modifications to it, and  it came out very nicely, a lovely creamy vegan soup.

Instant Pot Cauliflower and Broccoli Curry Soup

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 TB
  • Garlic, 2 cloves
  • Onion, 1/2 large
  • Cauliflower head, small, broken into florets
  • Broccoli florets, 2 cups
  • Red bell pepper, 1 small, thinly sliced
  • Potatoes, five or six very small red or blue potatoes quartered
  • Coconut milk, 1 19-oz. can full fat or 2 cups fresh
  • Water, 2 cups
  • Vegeta, 2 tsp.
  • Cumin, 1 tsp.
  • Thyme, dried, 1 tsp.
  • Curry powder, 1-2 TB to taste (My curry powder called itself “hot” — ok — but since I have spice sensitive people, I started with 1 tsp and ended up with 4. The original recipe also called for 1 tsp. cayenne. I prefer hot paprika, but I left it out since the curry had enough bite for my group).
  • Cilantro, fresh, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: peel and mince the garlic, petite-dice/chop the onion, cut the pepper into 1″ strips, break or cut the cauliflower and broccoli into florets.
  2. Whisk the seasonings into the coconut milk and set aside.
  3. Add the Vegeta to 2 cups hot water and set aside.
  4. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the Instant Pot and turn on to Saute for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the minced garlic and onion to the pot and saute briefly until softened.
  6. Cancel Saute. Add the water mixed with Vegeta to the pot.
  7. Add the remaining veggies to the pot. I have a mesh basket insert, and I think it’s easier to place the veggies in the basket and put the basket into the pot.
  8. Close the lid and set to Steam for three minutes. When finished, do a Quick Release and open the lid. If you used a basket insert with the veggies, lift it out. Otherwise spoon out most of the veggies into a bowl.
  9. Whisk the coconut milk and seasonings into the water that remains in the bottom of the Instant Pot, and return the veggies to the pot (this time without the mesh basket).

Serve, slurp, savor . . .

Quick Instant Pot Soup From Kitchen Basics

Last year was the “Year of the Pulse.” Fancy word for beans. Despite the low-carb craze, beans are still an incredibly potent health food. They were good before the carb thing, during it and yes, are still good. As one writer said, they “scour” your veins. And that’s not to mention they are loaded with B-vitamins and iron (in case you don’t get enough from your cast iron cookware). Now those are important vitamins and minerals in a vegan household.

My Instant Pot lets me throw in dried beans and usually have them perfectly cooked within half an hour (with the exception of chickpeas, which usually cook longer, and lentils, which usually cook shorter). So I said to my husband, Andy, “We should eat more beans.” To which he responded, “I don’t like them.” To which I responded, “Trust me.”

The only problem is, I haven’t been in the mood for cooking as much lately, winter doldrums maybe, after long weeks of zigzagging temperatures from -60 degrees (with the windchill) to +30 degrees overnight, ice, snow, salt, slush and high winds. Oh, and did I mention the coyote having a party in my backyard? So I needed something quick and easy.

I looked through my kitchen library of beans and chose lentils because they cook quickly, small red beans (really, Goya calls them that) because they’re pretty, and then I thought barley might be a nice, chewy and substantial addition. I had almost a pound of Crimini mushrooms I needed to use up before my new CSA box arrived from Andy’s office, and as always I had carrots and celery in the ‘fridge and onions. And that’s all I needed plus five minutes prep-time and thirty minutes Instant Pot time.

Oh, and one more thing: I always keep Vegeta in the cabinet. I usually make my soup broths from the veggies I saute when I start to make a soup, but every once in a while, I throw in the Vegeta, and it’s very good! I can county on Andy liking something when I use the Vegeta, and since I was making a point with the beans, I figured that would help me make my case.

One thing I should have used but didn’t this time was turmeric, which I should be putting into our food every day for best benefits and beautiful dishes.

Quick Instant Pot Soup From Kitchen Basics

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 1 large clove
  • Onion, 1/2 large
  • Carrots, 3 med.-large
  • Celery, 3 stalks, med.-large
  • Mushrooms, Crimini, 3/4-1 lb.
  • Lentils, 1/2 cup
  • Barley, 1/2 cup
  • Small Red Beans, 1/4 cup
  • Water, 3 quarts
  • Vegeta, 1 tsp/cup water (4 TB)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: peel and mince the garlic, petite-dice/chop the onion, slice carrots and celery on the bias, dry-wipe the mushrooms to clean them and slice.
  2. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the Instant Pot and turn on to Saute for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Add the veggies in this order and saute briefly after each addition: minced garlic, chopped onion, sliced carrots and celery, and finally, sliced mushrooms.
  4. Add 3 quarts of water to the Instant Pot along with 4 TB Vegeta, and continue cooking on Saute.
  5. Rinse the lentils and beans and add to the pot along with the barley (I wanted a brothy soup, but if you like a thicker soup, just add more beans and barley).
  6. Cancel Saute. Set Pressure to High for 30 minutes, and close the lid and vent.
  7. At the end of the cooking time, you can do either a Natural Release or a Quick Release, and check the beans. These small beans and the barley should be cooked at this point, but if they’re not, put them back under Pressure for a few minutes longer.
  8. If you’d like to add some fresh greens, chop and add them when the soup is ready to serve.

Guess what? This soup took me no time, was delicious, and had beans in it. And best of all . . . Andy liked it!

All the world is a narrow bridge…and the main thing is not to be afraid

Tuesday evening the wind picked up in the wetlands where I live. As it grew dark, I heard it whistling around our home, shaking the windows. The back door was frozen shut. A lot of things come to mind on nights like this, but before there was time for my imagination to go to work, the coyote who live out in those wetlands started their shrilly jubilant yelping and howling when they caught some poor creature for dinner.

The sound of the coyote always terrifies me. As a person with an imagination that works overtime on picturing catastrophe, I can’t get the image out of my head of my little 12 pound dog accidentally slipping out the door to the wetlands. He must also picture catastrophe because his head always pops up when the coyote cry, and often he will retreat to a safe and snuggly corner of our home.

I try to counter the terrible things that go through my head by picturing coyote pups waiting for their mom and dad to come home with food for them. They need to eat too, I tell myself. But I wish things were as the first three chapters of Genesis describe them. I wish all creatures were vegan and that we lived in safe and loving harmony with each other.

In these moments I also think of the Torah portion Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41). The Israelites are poised outside the Land of Israel. Spies go ahead and return with their report, some describing it as a land of milk and honey, others describing it as a terrifying home of giants, all in terms that make clear that the Israelites, like their fellow creatures on the planet, can as well be prey as predator:

“ . . . the evil report of the spies is framed in terms of food: “The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof…” (Num. 13:32). The people pick up that motif and view themselves as “animal food” for predators: “And wherefore doth the LORD bring us unto this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey…’” (Num. 14:3) Joshua and Caleb reverse that theme, turning it on the current inhabitants of the land, when they say, “…neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us…’

“Finally G-d picks up the theme, returning to the idea of the Israelites as animal food: “…your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.” (Num. 14:29) … and “…your little ones, that ye said would be a prey, them will I bring in…” (Num. 14:31), and then, “But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness” (Num. 14:32) and “…until your carcasses be consumed in the wilderness (Num. 14:33).”

This acute awareness, that one can be prey as easily as predator, probably shapes a different perspective on things. Certainly part of one’s worldview would be a constant and profound sense of vulnerability. That is an environment and a worldview that doesn’t so much inspire as demand faith. And that turns out to be the message of that portion as G-d exercises some tough love with the Israelites, denying those who falter the opportunity to enter the Land, telling them their worst fears are self-fulfilling: as prey, they will become carcasses.

Ironically entering the Land is a first step in a journey toward greater security and away from vulnerability, a first step in the Israelites’ separation from the wilderness where they are both predator and prey and toward civilization.

Today we are far down that path. Most of us have never worked on a farm much less lived in the wilderness. We are little connected to the sources of the food that sustains us. And it’s worth considering that as our sense of vulnerability decreases, as we are more alienated from our natural world and our food sources, faith is no longer a demand or requirement for forging ahead in a dangerous world but a choice. And because the easier choice is not to think about it too much — just as it’s easier not to think too much about life and death and our vulnerability in the economy of nature — we are perhaps less likely to experience the kind of profound faith described in the Torah.

Conversely, I know from my own experience of depression that engaging with one’s own survival, that is with food (planting it, growing it, harvesting it and cooking it), is a strong antidote to depression. Yet any full time independent farmer knows the fear that accompanies a season when the crop fails from too much or too little rain or pests destroy it or fires ravage the land. In the hunter-gatherer life that preceded the agricultural revolution, perhaps symbolized by the wilderness, life was less dependable, sudden fears in the night closer, and faith an imperative to moving forward.

So back to the coyote who live behind me. I do work on a farm, and I’m very much aware of the sources of my food — all of it. I’m aware of how much work is involved in it. But I am not dependent on the farm to support myself or my family, and my engagement in this work is physically taxing but still a luxury. That has a different effect on my worldview than if my life and the lives of my family members were dependent on it.

Maybe the coyote are my reminder that under the veneer of culture and technology, there are more basic and primitive realities for all of us. That we too are vulnerable to becoming prey as much as we are predators. But for an accident of birth and through no merit of my own, I could have been a coyote in that wetland behind me — or the meal that caused such terrifying jubilation Tuesday evening. These are realities that for a human being drive not only fear but faith and a profound sense of gratitude.

These are also realities to consider when I make decisions about what I eat. To enter life as a human being is an unearned gift, just as it was an unearned gift to enter the Land of Israel. Our gift of humanity requires faith, humility, gratitude — and compassion.

If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we? – Pam Ahern, Edgar’s Mission

Mushroom Wraps for Dinner from My Air Fryer

I got an Air Fryer for my birthday! It’s not quite as quick a study as the Instant Pot, but I do better with it once I put out of my head that things are going to taste exactly as though they were deep-fried. But it is a good kitchen tool, and I feel as though I’m just at the beginning of learning what I can do.

Pictured are some Mushroom Wraps I made for dinner last night (and am enjoying right now for lunch). I used a simple filling — very simple — my favorite for anything I stuff, cabbage, peppers, and now this:

Mushroom Filling

Ingredients 

  • Brown Basmati rice, 3 cups cooked
  • Mushrooms, sliced and pan roasted, 1 lb.
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp.
  • Za’atar, 1-1/2 tsp. (Za’atar is a Middle Eastern mix of herbs, available in bags at Butera, Garden Fresh and online – substitute with thyme and oregano to taste)
  • Olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Tomato juice
  • Lemons, juice of 1-2

Directions

  1. Cook 1 cup of dried brown Basmati rice with a teaspoon of salt in the Instant Pot or with your usual method (which will make 3 cups cooked).
  2. Pan roast the sliced mushrooms until the liquid cooks off — or Saute in the Instant Pot.
  3. Cut up the mushrooms loosely and pulse two or three times in a food processor.
  4. Add the rice, 1⁄4 cup of olive oil, seasonings, lemon juice and a half teaspoon of salt to the processor, and pulse a
    few times. The mixture should be gravelly and cohesive. Do not over-process.

I used wonton wraps, wrapped up the mushroom filling in each one and brushed lightly with extra virgin olive oil. I set the air fryer at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Next time I’ll use something larger because it was a little tedious to wrap all of these, and I don’t have that much patience. They could have been a little more beautiful if someone with more patience had been doing it.

Another time I’ll also make a sauce. Maybe a mustard sauce would be nice. And I’ll reduce the air frying time. Ten minutes would probably have been enough.

But they’re still good! Now back to the Instant Pot for my evening meal with Manali’s Instant Pot Aloo Saag, which I love, love, love.