Lamb heads went out once we made aliyah. Computer Cowboy and I had bargained about our lifestyle before we and our children flew permanently to the Holy Land. Whereas our level of koshrut is stricter in the Old World, relative to what it had been in the New World, certain aspects of our family’s way of executing “the life” got renegotiated before we landed here. Consequently, at the beginning of the year, our table features fish heads, rather than the quadrupedal, ruminant version of brains, tongues, cheeks, and eyeballs.
Others of our plated simanim, too, have had their recipes tweaked to protect the innocent. Our children, for instance, are not big fans of beets. We had made latkes out of those roots, had pureed them for soup, and had baked them with citrus sauce. None of those attempts proved to be crowd pleasers, however. Thus, this year, the plan is to mix diced beets with diced, green apples and with pomegranate seeds so as to incorporate several auspicious foods into one dish and so as, hopefully, to cause our offspring to partake of them. At worst, the salad will look pretty.
Likewise, our carrots will probably be morphed into something new for us this year; individual soufflés. Too often, at our Rosh Hashanah seudot, our symbol-laden course gets nibbled at, but not entirely eaten. Portion control might be an improved method of aiding our dear ones in eating their bioflavonoids, and, more significantly (pun intended), in helping them feel comfortable partaking of references to good tidings. Bite-sized servings, which leave room for other valuable tastes, might become the way we enjoy simanim in our home. This plan appears to have more potential than did our earlier attempts to have celebrants elevate a small portion of a siman, mutter the customary words, and then pass the platter elsewhere.
Concurrently, there are items that are difficult to make into tempting morsels. Until I changed gourds into a honey and lemon-enhanced jam, for instance, those cucurbits might as well have been left behind in Mitzrayim, along with cucumbers and select sorts of poultry, than proffered at our table, given their reception. Yet, through the flash and dazzle of the Internet, of late, I was able to find a recipe for a sweet gourd soup. Maybe, if the kids don’t ask too many questions about ingredients, I will be able to encourage them to try this comestible.
On the other hand, I’m not too sure about their willingness to eat my fish. Although Older Dude promises to return to us for Sukkot, books and bass (guitar) in tow, he will not be the one to dribble dill sauce on our Rosh Hashanah salmon or to stuff our Rosh Hashanah Nile Perch with mushrooms and herbs. Hesder yeshiva, which is wonderful for his soul and for the safety of our homeland, provides “growth opportunities” for our family kitchen. Funny, I thought I loved that boy for his innocent smile.
While that boy is developing into a young man, I, too, have been embracing personal evolution. Specifically, as indicated by a recent run-in I had with leeks, I have been risking believing in myself sufficiently to actualize some of my latent abilities. More to the point, when Computer Cowboy, who gamely pushed one of our two shopping carts, and I took advantage of the holiday products available at an urban market, divided in order to conquer, he went in search of wine, grape juice, fancy napkins, and chocolate chips (which go into our holiday challot) while I was left to deal with produce. I easily found apples, rimonim, stone fruit, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes and carrots enough for all the people living in our fair city, but nowhere were those alums, whose leaf sheath bundles many of us enjoy on Rosh Hashanah, to be found.
I acted uncharacteristically Israeli and asked a produce department employee if his store might, somewhere, have more of those wonderful green and white vegetables. It did. The man brought cartons and cartons of delicious stalks forth from an industrial-sized refrigerator. I bagged more than half of a dozen (they cook down to nearly nothing) leeks and then smiled when other patrons took advantage of that newly arrived stock.
On the flip side, I sought no dates. Although the store’s bins were stacked with bags of that dried fruit and although plentiful examples of that lovely, amber-colored siman, in fresh form, were similarly pile high. I bought neither; we serve date spread. Years of setting out holiday food had taught me that whereas the latter are novel and the former, once pitted and checked for bugs, are tasty, few comers to our table, given our overall bounty, b’ayin tova, bother with that type of sweetness. Spread, unlike the fully formed fruit, can keep and can be used, after the hagim, for many culinary applications.
Black-eyed pees, on the other hand, will likely surface whole at our table. Last year’s dip was not such a success. Accordingly, this year, I will attempt a pea and mushroom medley.
In the interim, I have learned from previous “apple tastings” that if I pass around several versions of those slices, I will I have enough leftovers to open a tartlet shop or to compete with Johnny Appleseed. Instead, this time around, I plan to put out just a minimum of that-which-gets-honey-dipped.
I exhale, repeatedly. My concern over making sure that we have dishes, which everyone or which most of everyone will eat, for a single course, is nothing compared to my concern over making sure I have cleaned our my neshemah. Tshuvah is an ongoing process, not a seasonal exercise. Nonetheless, when it is Elul and The Boss is near, I get, in no particular order; frightened, defiant, remorseful, and eager to grow and change. My questionable worries over honey cake and over stuffed chicken breasts are nothing relative to my apt worries over how relatively sweet I can make my core and as to how many days I will be allowed to serve Hashem.
Hence, I offer you and me the following blessings; while we are paring, dicing, stewing and otherwise making ready the culinary aspects of this festive season, may we also be paring, dicing, and otherwise making ready the spiritual aspects of our lives. As well, may we and our loved ones, may all of Klal Yisrael, and may all of humanity, be granted a year of health, of sustenance, and of nachas. May we be inscribed and sealed for all manner of good things! Amen. Amen.