Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Epicurious

I do sometimes enjoy the holiday season. I find myself swept along by the, acknowledgedly phoney but still comforting, piped cheer that I, as one unfettered by the present-buying mania, can uniquely and wholeheartedly enjoy. Still every now and then I am rudely reminded that, as within our little bubbleworld, I am sometimes more like a tourist than a citizen in this temporarily cheerful landscape.

We orthodox Jews do not celebrate start of the new year in January. There are those that claim that we don’t really celebrate anything at all, in the sense that our friends and neighbours from outside the community do. I think even the most fervent chassid will agree that, spirituality aside, our festivals are marginally less colourful and miles less fun than the secular variety. Although it is true, spirits, albeit of vastly differing sorts, do feature highly in both universes. The other thing the two holidays have in common, in our consumer societies at least, is the obsession with food. Indeed for the New Years lunch I attended with my goyish colleagues I had the specially briefed chef prepare, under the beady eye of a highly unsanitary looking mashgiach (kosher supervisor), the very same festive salad my wife served with the meat on our New Years eve:

In a dry pan over a low flame toast a big handful of pine nuts, shaking continually until they are evenly and lightly browned then stand them aside to cool. Add some light frying oil to the pan and fry off some cubed crusts of bread or challah to get some really crispy croutons. Leave aside to cool as well. Next, deseed half of a large and very red pomegranate into a salad bowl filled with baby spinach leaves - well washed and shaken dry. In a vinaigrette shaker or small container with a lid pour 5 tablespoons each of light cider vinegar and sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon of runny honey, a pinch of mustard powder and some roughly ground black pepper then shake hard. Mix together the croutons, nuts and salad. Pour the vinaigrette over just before serving and you have my wife’s perfect Rosh Hashana salad.

Almost perfect I should say. My younger boy refused to eat any of it because his well-meaning teacher had taught him that if he ate vinegar at all, from Rosh Hashana until after Yom Kippur, he would have a sour year. Cretin! Although I might be tempting fate here, I do have to point out that I did eat it then and it does not seem to have had any adverse effect on my year, although a purist might argue that this might have been the year my star finally shot out into orbit had I only declined those greens. Indeed it would not be the first time my religion crashed with my career and the fact I have managed to carve myself a niche and earn my way only serves to make me wonder sometimes, as I lie in my single bed at night, what I might have become had I gone to university at sixteen as I wanted, instead of the Yeshiva I passionately disliked but my father chose for me.

The mashgiach, sporting his festive melancholy, came over to me as I ate. He must have seen in me a kindred spirit and having finished preparing for me an utterly unappetizing looking plate of cold-cuts he had come to see how his raison d’etre there that night was doing. My company took one look at him and hastily vacated the area leaving me to finish my salad in the company of a fellow heeb.
"Is that all you are eating?" He leered at my plate through smudged spectacles.
"Yes," I replied stoically and prepared to explain why. He did not wait.
"Can I have your meat then?"
"Yes," I replied, "why not? You’ve already got my goat."

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