Last night my honeycake fell. This is not a problem I've ever had before, and it unsettled me. Let's be clear: I'm a decent cook, though not a great one. But the dishes I make well, I generally make really well, and honeycake is one of them.
Or it has been, anyway. I use a recipe from Love and Best Dishes (the old Agudas Achim Sisterhood cookbook), one which we decided years ago is similar to the one my Nana (of blessed memory) used to make. The sweetness of the honey is tempered with a cup of cold coffee, and the resulting cake is golden-brown and light as air.
Not this year. This year I messed up one honeycake by
trying to get it out of the pan too soon (it tore, all along
the bottom), and the other -- to my deep chagrin -- fell like
a soufflé, leaving a rift of unbaked batter down the
center of the loaf pan. I've never had trouble with my honeycakes before. What gives?
A few years ago my sister and her family started coming here for Rosh Hashanah. Ever since, my conversations with my mother at this season have had a wistful air. My mother adores her sons, of course, and the wide network of family and friends who enrich her life in San Antonio. But I think she's been wishing to celebrate the turn of the year with her daughters, too. This year my parents are coming to town for this holiday for the first time. Could that have something to do with my unprecedented baking flail?
I've been all abuzz about my parents' visit. I always am. Every
time they visit, the foreknowledge of their arrival colors the
week before they appear.
I always want their visits to be sweet. (I try to stay mindful
that I can't control their experience or even my own, but some
childlike part of me gets caught up sometimes in longing
to give them exactly what they wish for. Doesn't every kid know
that feeling, deep down?) This time, all that stuff is refracted
through the lens of Rosh Hashanah. I want everything to be just right. Which is, yeah, a lot of pressure to put on a honeycake.
There's a story I like to tell about the first time I led a seder from The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach with my family in attendance. I was nervous. The seder I lead differs in some critical ways from the seders of my childhood. What if they didn't like what I was doing? What if it didn't work for them?
Of course, those fears were unfounded. They loved my seder not because it was so like the ones they do, but because it was an honest expression of my own religious self and my own religious values. My job this week is to trust that the same thing will happen with this Rosh Hashanah, more or less. I need to release my expectations, of them and of myself, and be present to the sweetness of what actually is.
No, our kitchen is not the marvel of
organization that my mother's is. When she and I cook in it
together tomorrow, that will inevitably be revealed. And no, I won't be serving the foods I grew up on. Our holiday menu is based
around what's local and in-season (zucchini with mint cooked in
Sicilian Jewish style; smoked chickens with our homemade
maple-chipotle barbecue sauce), not the Eastern European cuisine
of my forebears.
But my parents aren't coming here so I can recreate the holiday experiences of my childhood or show them what a tidy household I know how to run. They're coming because they want to celebrate the New Year with their daughters and our families. And that's an experience only we can provide.
After I figured all of this out, I re-made the honeycake this morning. Worked like a charm this time.