Apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, symbolise the hope for a good and sweet year ahead.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
How many will pass and how many are born,
Who shall live and who shall die..
Who shall rest and who shall wander..

(Unetaneh Tokef)

 

As you can probably tell from this ancient verse, the Jewish version of New Year ain’t some breezy rendition of Auld Lang Syne, cheeky kiss at midnight, and fleeting resolution to give up chocolate. No, Rosh Hashanah is a very different kettle of (gefilte) fish.

In fact, it’s Judaism’s Day of Judgment no less – or at least its annual version – when one’s deeds are scrutinised, divine judgement is meted out, and our fates become sealed for the year ahead.

It’s basically one’s annual appraisal with God, with all the same apologies and promises, but without the chocolate bourbons. View Post

Passover food as depicted on the Passover seder plate

Food memories. They’re possibly the most powerful memories we have. There’s some science behind it – our perception of food is primarily streamed through our nasal olfactory system, a region of the brain closely associated with long-term memory. But beyond the biology, food memories form such a large part of our own life story, they cannot help but evoke a potent sense of longing and reminiscence. The weekend roast. Our first sip of wine. School pudding. (I didn’t say all memories had to be good, mind you!)

When we recollect a food memory, we are remembering a time in our lives that food made meaningful. Alternatively, food memories may emerge because of their association with a particular person, place or time. However they became, whatever their provenance, they’re then woven into our tapestry of experience and assimilated into our own life story. And there they remain, little nuggets that we stumble upon again and again.

For me, my fondest and most indelible food memories relate to the week-long Jewish festival of Passover. There’s a myriad of reasons for me why Passover food elicits such an emotive reaction, all of which inter-connect like an intricate dance. View Post

Chicken Soup, reminding me of the ones the Grandma Beryl used to make. Hers was of course the best.

In so many ways, Grandma Beryl was the matriarch of our family and a wise dignified figurehead. She was almost always immaculately turned out, her hair a halo of wispy-white cotton-candy with not a strand out of place. Her elocution was invariably poised and precise, graced with a slight Mancunian lilt, and as mellifluous as any a Radio 4 presenter.

Through the best part of ninety years, us children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would congregate at Grandma’s each week, her home bursting alive with the sighs and squeals of newborn babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, children trampolining on the sofa, kids taking penalty kicks in the lounge, and grown-ups sporadically crying out “Mind the ornaments!all accompanied by the constant clang and clatter of cutlery and plates as they materialised on and off the dining-room table.

Of course she loved all this, the hubbub of family coming together. And ultimately she yearned for nothing more than her family to be happy and well. To that end, she connected deeply with each and every one of us, like the gravitational pull of a warm radiating sun round which all our lives orbited.

And when it came to my Grandpa Reuben, well she was beyond devoted. He’d been her rock, and she his; a husband she’d lovingly served in an old-fashioned way, a couple and a home steeped in Jewish tradition. (“Call me old-fashioned” was in fact her favourite refrain.) But even after he died, the family would continue to come, week after week, and she remained the constant, the glue, the fabric, by which our family were reassuringly held.

On second thoughts, ‘matriarch’ isn’t quite right. The word conjures up images of haughtiness and detachment which couldn’t be further from the truth when it came to Grandma Beryl. She was a warm, loving, generous soul, totally unassuming, always smiling, gentle in her humility, yet strong in her own way.

A real ‘people person’, she loved snatching a conversation here and there, with everyone and anyone, from taxi-drivers to Big Issue sellers. And she was naturally gifted with a wonderful sense of humour, somehow both knowingly cheeky and yet brilliantly bone-dry, radiant even until her very last days.

For 10th October 2016 was her very last day, when her life was no more and she was finally at peace.  View Post

Vancouver, where these cinnamon buns make me nostalgic for childhood holidays in this city.

“In the mind’s eye, a fractal is a way of seeing infinity.”

James Gleick, from Chaos, 1987

We saw shadows of the morning light, the shadows of the evening sun, till the shadows and the light were one.”

Jane’s Addiction, from Three Days, Ritual de lo Habitual, 1990.

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By opening time at 7am, the smells of warm dough and coffee are already swirling around Solly’s bakery and the place is a buzz with bagel worshippers, bleary-eyed commuters, and caffeine-fixers. The counters burgeon with bagels high-stacked in assorted pyramids: poppy-seed, sesame-seed, onion, cinnamon and plain. But my senses are invariably drawn to the inviting tray of cinnamon buns and chocolate babkas; cuboid confectionery etched with characteristic spirals; an array which bedazzles the eyes with an optic illusion of rotating bakery. They are alive. They are calling me.

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Charoset, the stalwart of the Passover seder plate, and the various recipes which can be used.

Jewish cuisine. To some, an oxymoron. To others, the warmest cosiest hug your stomach could ever have.

Either way, laden with heavy carbs and cloying fat, regular consumption guarantees a lifetime of Gaviscon dependency, with the very real possibility of major cardiovascular surgery by the time you’re 60. Or even 50. View Post