Abe's mother invited me to Hanukkah dinner on the last day of Hanukkah. I asked for the evening off from Doggie Daycare and took an audience job in the middle of the day for Fran Drescher's Tawk Show to pay for a dogsitter and gas.
I woke up late in the morning and only had 2 hours to make the peach cobbler and get to Fran's Tawk Show.
I used my mother's crust recipe since it is vegan, delicious and what I grew up eating. When I think back to what went wrong, the first thing that comes to mind was not chilling the water. For some reason, chilling the water overnight makes all the difference in a pie dough. I forgot the ritual of filling up the glass of water and putting it in the refrigerator before going to bed. Ice chilling or freezer chilling just doesn't work, and my mother warned me of that!
Then, rushed, I beat out the dough but couldn't get the consistency I wanted for 30 minutes or so. When I finally was able to patch together a crust, I stuffed it in the oven for 25 minutes before rushing to Hollywood. Since I preheated the oven, I hoped I could turn off the oven but leave the cobbler in there to cook with whatever heat was trapped inside. Second mistake.
I came back from the Tawk Show and there was a lot of juice. I mean . . . a lot of juice. I drained the peaches before putting them in the cobbler, so I don't know what the fuck. I tipped it over to drain out more peach juice through the crust, while carrying it to my car in the drive way.
Third mistake, I drove with it on the edge of the passenger seat so that one end was slightly higher than the other, as the base of the seat is at a slight angle. I thought if I rotated it around during my commute- it wouldn't get soggy. After 2 hours in traffic, it got soggy. Even with the rotation.
I pulled up to Abe's apartment and parked outside. I sat there. He came out to my car window. I knew we were late. I got out of the car and asked for a cigarette.
Abe, "How was work?"
Me, "Eh, ok. The first time I worked that show, they played music from the 90s. Now, they are back to that Top 40 bullshit. That Katy Perry drives me crazy. 'Daisy Dukes and a bikini top' . . . what is that? A story?"
Abe, "It doesn't make any sense. People like to listen to songs that don't make any sense."
Me (singing), "Daisy Dukes and a bikini top-"
Abe (chuckling), "Well don't make me listen to it. (beat) The cobbler looks good."
Me, "I drove with it on a tilt and I think it made half of it really soggy."
Abe, "No, it looks good."
40 Minutes Later- Abe's Family Home
I walked into Abe's family home with cobbler and a bottle of champagne. The cobbler needed heat and the champagne need chill. Abe's father offered to keep the cobbler in the oven, still warm from the brisket.
As we were all sitting down for dinner, Abe's Mom sang out happily, "Take a picture!"
Abe's father sat down, exhaled and said, "I would rather just use my mind to remember this moment instead."
Abe stood over me and lit the candles standing in a glass menorah, some leaning over too far, others standing straight up like each was a person waiting their turn in line.
I watched him light all eight candles, as he sang, "Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu, l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah."
I hadn't heard Abe speak Hebrew yet. He already has a deep voice with the faint glass clinking tap-tap-tap of a boy. It felt warm hearing foreign words fall out of his mouth. It was a little unexpected, precious and sexy.
Abe's grandmother and grandfather jumped off a train going to Auschwitz as young adults, escaped to Belgium and hid in someone's attic for a year. There, they fell in love and got married. Something about being that close to the history, sitting at the table and sharing the ceremony with a family that survived inscribes itself along the spine of your soul.
The traditional food for Hanukkah dinner is beef brisket, jelly donuts, homemade apple sauce, potato latkes and kugel (an egg noodle dish that takes on a lot of variations). The only thing I could eat was the latkes, which are essentially potato pancakes specially made vegan for me, and the steamed brussel sprouts, green beans and cucumbers. Kugel must be made with egg noodles, so I will never be able to have it.
Jewish food is very different from Italian Catholic food. This seemed simpler. Some of the recipes Abe's mother talked about required some modern, processed ingredients like 'Lipton's Powdered Ice Tea'. The kugel was made with dry cereal flakes. The food, on its face, looked very basic and almost bland. Abe's family happily enjoyed it. It all has a history, deeper than mine. They are the chosen people, after all.
My mother makes lasagna, ricotta cheese pie, ravioli and cannolis all from scratch. She pounds out the noodles by hand. She insists on cooking every holiday, locks herself in the kitchen and gets incredibly grouchy; burning her fingers on the cannoli rollers and stuffing ravioli shells that break apart at the wrong touch. It didn't take long as a child to figure out that several hours in a hot room with a frustrated Sicilian is the opposite of Christmas delight. The end result, however, is phenomenal.
My "sacred" foods growing up seemed a lot more colorful, heavy, indulgent and angry.
The apple sauce on the latkes was strange, but good. I kept piling steamed vegetables on my plate because they were so delicious. During dinner, Abe informed everyone in the most blase manner possible that there was a wasp nest hanging from the roof, outside his apartment.
His mother, "You've got to get rid of that wasp nest. Right away!"
Abe, "Eh. There are only two left and they know if they go inside they are going to die. I mean, three guys live there. They aren't coming inside, trust me."
His Mother, "What if one gets inside?"
Abe, "Oh well. I'll be fine."
His Mother, "What if it stings you?"
Abe, "Then I'll swat it."
His Mother, "What if it stings you in the eye?"
Abe, "Then I'll still swat it."
His Mother, "What if you are asleep?"
Abe, "Well then I will have to take the chance of it stinging my forehead."
His Mother, "Get rid of it, Abe."
After dinner, Hanukkah gifts were exchanged. Everything was nice, but modest and practical. I thought I would feel uncomfortable with that part of the evening but I didn't. Abe got a new pair of jeans and tried them on for us while we sat at the dinner table.
Abe's Mom, "How do they fit?"
Abe, "Well, they are a little tight in the crotch."
Don't look at me. Don't look at me.
Abe looked at me and smiled.
Then I couldn't help but smile.
There is no way in hell I was going to look over at his parents and brother watch this moment in silence.
Tick. Tock. Tick-
Abe, "Yeah, they are nice though." He reached down and pulled down the crotch.
Don't look at me. Don't look at me.
Abe breaks out a chuckle and looks up at me, blushing.
His brother got boxers with beer and pretzels printed on them. Abe's brother, "Boxers with beer and pretzels. I have still have the green pair you gave me a few Hanukkahs ago. That's ok, this is different beers and different pretzels."
Abe's mother told me about a Holocaust Survivors Cookbook. I laughed. Why did I laugh? Because I am an asshole. I don't know why I laughed. I realized she was serious and showed me the book after dinner. While the men rubbed their bellies and collected the dishes, I skimmed through a couple recipes with old photographs printed along side them. Underneath, each had a story. Horrible stories.
The food is basic in many ways, but it is food that kept the Jews alive so they could protect their bloodline. So they could endure. Their food is about life, not pleasure.
After the meal, we had my cobbler. I don't know what to say, half of it looked soggy when I pulled it out of my car and half of it still looked soggy after pulling it out of their oven . . . if not soggier. Everyone had a piece and I was the only one that finished it. Everyone else was "full". Look, I know my cobbler sucked, ok?
One hour later- Abe's car
Me, "Ok. What about the cobbler?"
Abe, "I bit into it and there was a piece of dough. Like raw dough."
Me, "Oh my God, my cobbler sucked."
45 minutes later- post-coitus:
Me, "My cobbler sucked. I am never cooking again."
Abe, "I've heard that before."
Me, "You would like that wouldn't you?"
The next morning- post coitus:
Me, "My cobbler was God awful. I am never cooking again."
Abe, "I ate the peaches out of it."
An hour later- driving to Midas:
Me, "Tell me one good thing about my cobbler."
Me, "There is nothing good about it? It was all bad?"
Abe, "Look, babe, I don't know what to tell you. If you ask me if there are a few things wrong with the cobbler, I have to say there are a few things wrong with the cobbler."
Me, "It was so terrible, there is nothing good to say about the cobbler."
Abe, "I am sure everyone appreciates that you made the cobbler. Everyone liked that you brought the cobbler."
Me, "The idea of the cobbler is the only good thing about the cobbler?"
25 minutes later- at Midas:
Me (putting my hands on Abe's shoulder, staring him straight in the eye): "So what you're telling me is last night was about me smelling like BO and bringing bad cobbler? Is that what happened?"
Abe looked at me and smiled.
You know what? Want to talk about rituals? Lets talk about rituals. I am going to make peach cobbler every year on the last day of Hanukkah for the rest of my life. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?