Monday, September 17, 2012

Southern Honey Cake for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish new year - began last night at sundown.  While December 31st is an utterly secular celebration - champagne, someone special to kiss at midnight, noisemakers, confetti, designated drivers - this is an occasion both for joy and for introspection.

As John Lennon sang in "Happy Xmas (War is Over):

And so this is Christmas and what have you done?
Another year over, and a new one just begun.

Well, just change that Christian holiday to this Jewish one, and the question is the same.  Universal truth.

What have you done - accomplished, succeeded at, failed at, tried to do, not worked sufficiently hard at, disregarded, excelled at?  What have you done - been generous, been unkind, been helpful, been curt, been patient, been understanding?  What have you done - taken from the universe, given back to it?

Each of us has done every one of these things.  We've all tried, we've all had moments where we gave all we had, we've all had times when we were filled with regret.  That's life.  That's our humanity showing, frail, fragile, and fallible creatures that we are.

5772 was a remarkably good year for me, after the "annus horribilis" of 5771.  I had - dare I say it? - fun!  A speaking engagement that led to membership in a group of wonderful women ... an exciting writing assignment for culinary historians ... three judging gigs (and an invitation for a fourth, this Thursday) ... valuable and critical time with Jeremy and with beloved friends, attending seders and services, playing Mahj, just chatting over dinner or a cup of coffee.  And I've welcomed new friends into my extended family.

I'm slowly reclaiming the condo I moved to last fall after Jeremy and his dad moved out, painting it a lovely shade of yellow with plans to make the kitchen fabulously festive with red cabinets.  I'm also making it my own with whimsical touches like a rubber duckie collection in the half-bathroom.  My cookbooks are back on shelves, readily accessible, after being boxed up for most of the year before.

My health has been good, after being diagnosed the previous year with high blood pressure.  Although I've always gone for long walks, I've taken to riding the bus and then walking a mile to/from the bus stop to get either to work or to home.  Let someone else deal with the orange barrels and with the college students whose sense of immortality leads them to walking directly in front of my 2000-pound Suburban; I'll get my exercise, thank you, while reducing my stress levels.

I'm proud to say that I've met every single deadline for my numerous projects - daily deadlines, weekly deadlines, monthly deadlines - no matter what is going on in my life.  It's a matter of honor, and it's a matter of respect.

I've had all sorts of adventures with some of my bestest girlfriends, in Pittsburgh and in Detroit and in Chicago.  And I have a new boyfriend, Craig, who's very sweet, creative, kind, generous, a good listener, true blue ... :)

I've had ample opportunity to assess how I got to, and through, 5771, such that I've evaluated all I can to accept my own responsibility for where I've been and where I want to go.  I've mourned, I've ruminated, I've forgiven, I've made progress.  It has been a year in which I've tried not to be selfish while still protecting myself.  I've tried to acknowledge it when I've failed to be the person I strive to be.  There is, of course, much - MUCH - room to grow.  It's been a year of reclaiming - things, places, space ... me.  This is what I've done.

I'm me ... and I'm not perfect.  But I try.  The angel said to try, more than two years ago, when I met him in Detroit.  Each day, I remember his words: "You've gotta try."  It's hard.  Sometimes it's so, so hard.  There have been days when I've walked around feeling like a raw, gaping wound ... but I've still tried.

Because what's the alternative?  Letting others down, and letting myself down.  Incompletion, failure.  I can't succeed at everything, and sometimes circumstances just conspire against me.  I'm known in the real world as "The Girl with the Crisis du Jour" for a reason: I'm a kinda flaky chick who just cooks and bakes and takes pictures of everything she eats, but who is often caught up in others' whirlwinds.

But I want to at least be able to say I tried - that I used my talents, my gifts, my abilities, my best intentions - and tried.  Yoda said "Do or do not do, there is no try."  This is wrong.  You've gotta try.  Sometimes trying is the best you have to offer, and trying should be appreciated gratefully rather than dismissed as insufficient.  With hope, with effort, with strength you might not have known you had, you've gotta try.  If you don't try, you get nowhere, you have nothing, you give nothing ... and you've done nothing.

"Every year, there descends and radiates a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the light of every year withdraws to its source in the Infinite One who is beyond time ... (but) by means of the prayers we utter, a new and superior light is elicited ... a new and more sublime light that has never yet shone since the beginning of the world."
Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in the Machzor Lev Shalem

That light? It shines upon us, and also within us.

And so, the question to ask in assessing the past year is, "What have I done?"

And the question to ask as we begin a new year is, "What will I do?"  Where will I find light, where will I shine light?

Everywhere I can.  I will try ....

Sister Sadie's Honey Cake
(slightly adapted from Marcie Cohen Ferris' Matzah Ball Gumbo - it's not particularly photogenic, but it's moist and sweet and really lovely)

  • 3-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Coca-Cola (must be flat before using)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • butter pecan ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease 2 9"x5" loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  In a medium bowl, combine the honey, sugar, and eggs.  Whisk in the Coke and the oil, then pour into the dry ingredients and combine well.  (Batter will be very thin.)

Divide the batter among the loaf pans, and bake for 45-50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely.

The recipe warns that "cakes may sink slightly in the center."  "Slightly" is an understatement - there's a big ol' dent.  But that's why God gave us ice cream, so we can plop a scoop of it over that part of the sliced cake!

Makes 2 cakes, 12 or so slices each.  Serve with ice cream.

You can read more about Southern Jewish food in my Washtenaw Jewish News article this month - "Southern Cuisine, Jewish-style."  (Click here, then scroll down to page 33.)

(The card behind the pictured cake says: L'Shanah Tovah Tikitevu [lay shah-NAH toh-VAH tee-kee-TAY-voo] - May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.  This is the long version of the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting; you can shorten it simply to Shanah Tovah.)


Unknown said...

Love this post, Mary. Thanks so much for sharing all of that with us. And of course, love... LOVE the honey cake!!!

lindalou said...

Nice post. You can tell you put a lot of thought into your past year. All the best in the new year.

Candace said...

Sweet Mary, what a beautiful, straight from the heart post! I was captivated by every word and so blessed by it. It's so wonderful to read the happiness in your "voice". May every day be even better than the one before for you. Much love, my friend. Much love! *big hugs*

Carla from The River said...

Thank you for sharing. Best to you!

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