The Jewish New Year for me has always been a reason to take the day to relax and reflect. A few years ago when I moved to Oakland I decided that I would cook a Rosh Hashanah dinner to honor the New Year and to welcome friends into a new apartment in a new city with a new roommate. A year later, when I moved back to San Francisco, I fit seventeen people into my tiny little studio for the second annual tradition of the Rosh Hashanah dinner.
It seemed necessary, having moved once again, that I welcome new people in my life in a new apartment in a new city, with the unifying themes: food and drink. I took the day off on Thursday. The day included a walk to the the Medellin Market (my first time there) where fresh fruits and vegetables abound. Vivid colors of the rainbow line the stands, and as I walk b,y the vendors ask, “Que buscas?” wanting to make a sale, yes, but also when I say, “Hierbas?” point me in the direction of the spices.
I make most of my purchases at only one of the stands where the women that run it keep asking, “Que mas?” until my bag is bursting at the top with red peppers, celery stalks, cilantro, avocados, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, (something that I think are yams, but later turn out to be turnips, maybe?)chives, cherry tomatoes,and jalapeños. (One of the women points to the mushrooms. Championes? I laugh, pointing to my bursting bag and shake my head no).Outside the market, walking back to my apartment, I wonder if I should stop and get a bag of fresh cut-up mango as a snack. But how am I going to carry it?
I pass by the puestos where people sit on plastic stools eating fried blue corn tortillas with ricotta cheese and spices, the taco stands where the smell of carne asada abounds, and stop at the truck up the street from me. The couple is there every Thursday selling Oaxaqueño products: anything from manchego cheese to dried fruit, fruit candies, pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. I pick up a bag of raisins and prunes for the tzimmis and pistachios and almonds for the honey cake and lentil stew.
Ellen comes over to help. She brings measuring spoons (something that I can not find from from the small grocery store down the street to the big grocery store 10 minutes away, to the Walmart across town). The lentil stew, tzimmes, and salad are already made.
The only thing left is the honey cake, which at high elevation, I have no idea how it will be, and I am seriously wishing that my aunt, an incredible baker, is coming over with one. We measure everything out and stick in the oven (first time I used it!). Ellen lights it. I’m scared I’m going to blow up the kitchen!
Twelve people come over. I say the prayers I remember (I looked them up on the internet) and then in memory of my grandfather, give the signal to eat with a “Play ball!” There is wine, food, and a sunken honey cake (it sadly overflowed in the oven) that miraculously still tastes delicious. It is so wonderful to see people laughing, joking, drinking, and eating in my little two-room apartment.
There is a feeling of grounding and home here.
Shanah Tovah: May your year be filled with sweetness and love.