In the middle of her life, under challenging circumstances and against all odds, Shelly Brenner, a born-and-raised Tel Avivian, took a brave step and moved to the desert, to the Elah Valley. “It was fairly extreme,” she shares. “No one understood how I, with my two sons, could move to such a godforsaken place, where I didn’t know a soul and where the jackals spend the nights howling—loudly.”
Visitors who come to the valley and see the signs for Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, and the crude and ugly separation barrier often panic. “Just a few minutes from my house, which looks like a villa in Tuscany, things are tough. There are constantly helicopters flying low over the valley, but I find my peace in the green fields. These days, this is my favorite ‘street.’ I walk through it excitedly, drunk off the scents and colors. I find salvation at the end of a deep breath, and I give thanks for the purity of my suffering. I dream in Italian. I write in Hebrew. I pick arugula.”
This book is Shelly’s “Shulchan Aruch” (a Jewish holy text, literally “set table”), her Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant of her life. It’s a deep, direct, and uncompromising dive into her personal “kasbah”: her kitchen. “Cooking is a mannerist mechanism, it’s absolute and compulsive, based on strict observance of rituals, like a constant eruption of severe OCD; it’s horribly poetic shticks on top of shticks that form a new culinary religion. My religion.”
A twist on tomato matbucha, sage fries with black salt, lamb meatloaf with pistachio chutney, and oven-roasted apricots. This is the kind of food Shelly makes with passion. An extraction of the thing itself. Local, fresh, and accessible ingredients with minimal intervention that allow the raw ingredients to speak for themselves. Stains that speak.
Time Out Tel Aviv:An unusual book. / Globes: Brenner is a sort of food poet, sometimes a food sorceress. Her book is a unique, very personal combination of writing about food, about ingredients, about life. / Nana10: A book that’s fun to take to bed with you, to learn a little from it each time, and to drift into a deep sleep.