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Hummus Thoughts

February 1, 2013
Delicious, nutritious and messy when a projectile.

Delicious, nutritious and messy when a projectile.

In retelling the incident later, we called it “The Great Hummus Explosion of 2009.”  Unfortunately, having the year in the title was important: there was also the ‘Great Hummus Incident of 2007, and the ‘Not as Great But Still Messy Hummus Experiment of 2010.’

It all started well enough; the tahini was mixing well with the first watery can of chickpeas, the lemon juice swirled in nicely when the blender was at setting charmingly entitled ‘mash’ on my blender.  But I was having the problem that often plagued my attempts to make the perfect batch of hummus: there were lumps that refused to be smoothed.  These lumps refused to drift to the bottom of the blender to meet their puréed fate.  I turned off the blender and tried pushing these recalcitrant garbanzo beans down with a big spoon, but when I started it up again, the problem persisted, the lumps flowing upwards despite my efforts, like a hideous trick of a reversed gravitational pull.

I decided that chopsticks were a versatile tool. I stuck one in and gingerly stirred the concoction while the blender was still on. Success!  Some of the heterogeneous clumps were becoming smoother.  This was going to be my finest hummus creation ever!  I reached down a little deeper to get to the rest….

You can imagine what happened next.

Even as the chopstick jammed in the blade, I could see, as if in slow motion, the inevitable rise of the gummy liquid.  I had time to think, ‘Oh crap’ and then hummus was everywhere, defying physics in its quest to soil the entire room.  It soared to improbable heights and distances; hummus hit the glass dining room table with a light plop, smeared on the refrigerator, crusted the underside of a cabinet, and gave me an attractive set of garbanzo bean eyebrows.  I shrieked like a small child.

Both my roommates came running to see what calamity had befallen me.  When they saw the beige smears, they started to howl with laughter, from the safety of the hallway. They told me, that for that level of stupidity, I deserved to have chickpeas crusting my hair.

Like with dyed chicken eggs after Easter, we found hummus in strange places in our kitchen and living room for months.  We told guests that it gave the apartment character.  Sometimes they nodded and smiled as if they believed us.

Food with a ton of religious meaning.

A traditional seder plate complete with lamb shank, horseradish, egg, charoset and maror (bitter herbs, in this case, parsley)

Food is important.  Not just for the obvious biological factor either.  The social impact and influence of food is pervasive, the rituals associated with food are extensive and engrained culturally.  For instance, in the Netherlands, I was told that one eats bread for breakfast, and bread for lunch, with cheese or meat or something on top.  My friend told me that she wouldn’t consider eating something else: the idea of making pasta, or a veggie dish, or having anything beyond bread was strange for her.  Additionally, leftovers is a foreign concept in Dutch society, apparently- not enough for another dinner, but it’s not to be consumed for a lunch… what to do?  And yogurt… in the Netherlands, yogurt is a dessert.  Full stop.

In Germany, eating while you are walking is a seen as a sign of sloppiness and rudeness.  In the US, munching while walking can be seen as you being a hard worker, as you are not even taking a lunch break from the daily grind.  In Jordanian society, a traditional wedding meal is shared between all the members of the same sex from a communal plate: forks not included.  The rituals of where to place the fork, knife, spoon, on whether on eats in courses or with all the food on the table at once are all culturally determined and socially significant.

Then there is the amount of time an average person spends eating every day.  We eat constantly.  Three times a day, minimum, plus snacks and the like.  And eating is social.  As one Garfield comic strip noted, before Garfield became terrible, “Eating is social.  When you diet, you diet alone.”  This is accompanied by Garfield holding a carrot mournfully.  (The internet is letting me down in terms of finding this strip and linking to it.)

And the judgments attached!  Being vegetarian (or heaven’s forbid, vegan) is a political and environmental statement.  Keeping kosher or halal indicates someone’s religious proclivities, being able to cook makes one a catch, knowing a good Chianti from a Pinot-Cab blend means you are probably classy,  and liking light American beer means you are probably not.  In short, social value is attached to what we eat, when, how much and how.  Human beings don’t use food simply as sustenance; not matter which culture you look at, human beings assign signals and layered meaning to food.  I guess it is part of being human.

So where does that (hopefully) amusing vignette about hummus come in?  It is simply to serve as a reminder that food, and its preparation and consumption is rarely as simple as it seems: hummus is never just hummus.  It can be an art experiment, a lesson in physics, a lesson in humility, a reminder of globalization, an indicator of youth, laden with symbology, a political stance, or, apparently a conversation starter (and stopper, oy.)

Maybe next time I’ll try blending tomatoes and mangoes together.  Sadly, it might be a step in the right direction.

A feast of epic proportions, courtesy of my father.  It was the last Passover dinner Jonathan Tucker was there for, and therefore has a special place in my heart, always.

A feast of epic proportions, courtesy of my father. It was the last Passover dinner Jonathan Tucker was there for, and therefore has a special place in my heart, always.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2013 12:54 PM

    Mmm, that looks really tasty.

  2. Bert Winer permalink
    February 4, 2013 10:29 AM

    I regularly enjoy your thoughts from the middle seat, including your latest one. The whole thing was an excellent presentation.
    Love from Papa Bert.

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