Dip Baby Dip
Let’s be clear up front: guesting is hard. It’s not more or less hard than hosting, it’s different hard. A lack of control, namely. Who will be there? What will we eat? What should I bring?
That last one is easily solved by asking your host and suffering the consequences if they say salad, frantically searching for recipes that seem fancy and involve more than mixed greens but don’t involve pine nuts because damn pine nuts are expensive. Or don’t ask the host and bring a bottle of wine. Last week I asked, and my host said dips. “My roommate loves dips!” were her exact words.
So I did what one does when one works at OneTable, and asked my colleagues for dip ideas. I kid you not, there were over twenty dip recommendations from these people. I chose two: a white bean dip that seemed like hummus but Extra, and a Swiss chard and tahini dip because tahini. A quick series of swipes on Amazon Prime found the ingredients on my doorstep a few hours later. And now, processing.
Two years ago almost to the day, I received a Cuisinart food processor. It was one of those wedding presents I felt obliged to register for. At some point wouldn’t I need to process some food? According to receipts from GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, and PostMates, the answer is decidedly no. And so the processor languished in my tiny Brooklyn apartment, and moved with me from New York to Colorado only to languish in my (only slightly larger, to be honest, which was disappointing) Denver apartment.
I rummaged in a closet until I found the pristinely sealed Cuisinart box. I unpacked each part — so many parts! parts are so intimidating! — and after a quick run under a steamy tap, set about assembling.
In the kitchen I feel like many of you might feel approaching Jewish practice and ritual, which is to say, completely out of my element. I don’t like to feel dumb and cooking makes me feel dumb. A special kind of dumb that my heart, as it breaks a little, files under You Should Know This, You Failure at Life. But there was another tangle of feelings as well, feelings of… processing.
Process can be a noun, a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end, or a verb, to perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on something in order to change or preserve it. As I food processed late Friday afternoon, another kind of processing happened as well, and I began to realize that these actions — straining beans, stemming chard — were a part of a particular end I didn’t even realize I was seeking, the end to an overfull, overwrought week.
As a rabbi and a ritualist, I rely on ancient symbols to achieve the goal of Shabbat; through the process involving candlelight, wine, and bread I reach a kind of sacred attunement, and become present in a way I simply can’t be the other six days of the week. Why not turn to the undulating churn of the Cuisinart for a different kind of processing, one just as sensory if decidedly more modern?
I added too much salt to the white bean dip and ended up having to double up on the beans, add tomatoes, and, well, figure it out. (The Swiss chard and tahini dip was divine because tahini — it’s impossible to screw up tahini.) I was disappointed until I remembered my own advice: don’t worry if this Shabbat isn’t perfect, whatever that means. So I showed up that evening with two imperfect but delicious dips, and felt like a queen. For some reason, having homemade dips on the table made the dinner special in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. It was fantastic.
So don’t worry if you’re hosting and the food isn’t quite right. Don’t worry if you’re guesting and you don’t know anyone else in the room. Remember the process: by hosting and guesting, by cooking or ordering in, by creating light, sanctifying time with wine, and nourishing yourself with bread, you are changing and preserving. You’re transforming the week that was into the weekend that will be, and doing so by owning traditions that are thousands of years old. And you’ll get another chance next week.
All that from a couple of dip recipes and a food processor? Damn straight. Just don’t forget the background music.