how i look

I am on my way to my high school reunion. I am hedging around saying which one it is, and it occurs to me suddenly how silly that is. It occurs to me how silly a lot of things are, when tectonic plates (real ones) and juggled plates (figurative ones) and other grand-scale matters are uppermost in my mind. I mean, lots of crazy bad crap is happening, at home and abroad. So the fact that I get to be 47 years old, and have three decades since high school to gaze back on—that suddenly seems like a silly thing to get squirrelly about.

When I was plotting my course towards this occasion, I had to factor in that I’d be traveling quite a while before I got to set my bag down, and a lot of that on foot. Carrying several outfit possibilities around was kind of out of the question.  My default “feel more devil-may-care about how I look” setting is at the point on the dial marked “badass boots.” But I knew my aching back and other 47-year-old parts wouldn’t stand for that. So my distance from high school can be measured in one way by hearing myself say, when my 9th grade daughter asked me what I planned to wear, “something a lot like what I am presently wearing.” (I'm happy to observe that her own distance from comfortably inhabiting her personal skin and clothes can probably be assessed in one way by her ready approval of this plan.)

I’ll confess to wavering a little when I bumped into a very glamorous pal at the train station, who (in her badass, urban-chic boots) congratulated me for my bravery in wearing my country-mouse shoes to such a city-mouse occasion. But only a little. I once read (but cannot now locate) a great interview with Jodie Foster, who was asked about beauty and self-acceptance and the general process of both aging in a face-based industry and becoming someone in charge rather than someone who was bossed. She said something to the effect of, I’m aiming to be an outspoken old lady in a housecoat, sitting on my balcony and screeching at the young people on the street to get a damn haircut.

I think I would probably be screeching “pull up your damn pants,” and I like to think of my elderly self sporting one of your nicer housecoats. But overall I think something complicated and mostly positive about that.

toasted coriander
toasted coriander

This has nothing and everything to do with haroset. I wrote a pretty nice post about haroset about a month ago, but you’ll have to take my word for that because the computer ate it. It wasn’t especially timely at that moment, being well after Passover, but it was sort of timely in that it lamented that we only eat haroset on Passover and that seems like a mistake, and it was also a good deal closer in time to Passover than this present moment. But it’s lost to history now. In disgust, I dove under the hood of the blog, a task I had been putting off for ages. What I tinkered with had nothing to do with how I lost the essay, but there are many ways to force oneself to a reckoning and that was how I did it.

There are plenty of bugs to work out yet, but last week it was an absolutely black cloud of bugs and now they can be handled with a flyswatter, so that’s progress.

get set
get set

That’s how we got to this facelift here. As for the haroset, I really do think it’s a durn shame we don’t eat it all the year long. For one thing, its backbone is apples, meaning that an autumn haroset would really be in New England (where I live)’s wheelhouse. For another thing, it’s crazy tasty.

I don’t have a tender and uncomplicated relationship to organized religion, but I find what connection I have to the faith of my origins through food. My late sister was the queen of this essential dish of Passover, and it feels wrong and right to take it over and push it forward.

not your mother's haroset, on a raisin & a porpoise
not your mother's haroset, on a raisin & a porpoise

Like many foods, there are diehard core beliefs about it that vary from region to region. Here are the only absolutes in my opinion: I hate walnuts, and I don’t make it in a food processor. Aside from the fact that it is supposed to make you mindful of hard manual labor (it represents the mortar that enslaved bricklayers had to trowel on), it gets mushy and weird and a little too much like mortar its own self if you make it that way.

Whatever your own connection to religion, you might enjoy knowing that haroset has its origins in the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, without question totally the funnest part of the Bible. Sexy, mad fun. “He revived me with raisins, he refreshed me with apricots.” Come on! SO fun. So you definitely should use apricots. After that, head anywhere on that part of the map and you'll find support for all kinds of crazy things: sesame seeds, cardamon, dates.

If you object to using red wine, and please be aware that my in-depth research (I called a chemist! OK, he's my brother-in-law!) tells me the alcohol content is basically nil after it stands for a few hours (which it really should, to maximize its tastiness), you can use pomegranate juice, which has almost the right acrid tang to stand in. Wine is better. But do what you will.

not your mother's haroset, on a raisin & a porpoise
not your mother's haroset, on a raisin & a porpoise

Our holiday version was a direct homage to my sister: pecans, almonds, apricots, ginger. This is my unruly, non-homage version, which I have been eating on toast and yogurt and spoons. It makes me think of making it in summer, with a fresh apricot. Now there’s an idea.

unruly haroset

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds (note you will not use all of them)
  • 1-2 tart apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 c dried slab or Blenheim (not Turkish) apricots, slivered
  • 1/c c dried cherries
  • 3/4 c slivered, sliced or chopped, toasted almonds
  • 1/2 c toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1T cinnamon
  • a twist of black pepper
  • 1-3 T excellent honey
  • 1/4-1/3 c red wine, or pomegranate juice

In a small, dry skillet, toast the coriander seeds over medium heat until you understand, as my friend Laura once said, why the hunt for spices drove the great explorers (this only takes about a minute). Put them in a small dish or mortar, and use the base of a small jar or the associated pestle to lightly crush them.

Combine all the fruits and nuts in a medium bowl, and then add the cinnamon, pepper and a pinch of coriander seeds.  Save the rest for another cha-cha.  Now stir in the smaller amounts of honey and wine.  Taste it.  It should be slightly stronger in all respects than you would like; pump up the honey and wine until that happens.  Now set it aside for at least an hour.  It will mellow out considerably.  People will tell you that it doesn't keep well, and I find that is not true at all.  It gets, you know, better with age.