Spiced Honey Cake

Rain. Lots of rain. Weekend rain. Too much rain. Not summer, but fall, rain. It strips the air of pollen that makes me sneeze and keeps me roaming the kitchen the purpose. The bag of gala apples Dad picked sit on the counter in a brown paper bag. Each one is imperfect, yet saved, from a storm induced fall to the ground. I lean against the counter. I know it’s almost Rosh Hashanah, but my niece reminds me through a propped up tablet screen.

“Rosh-Hash-an-ah,” she pauses at each syllable.

Her face lights up at my response, “L’shana tovah.”

Unexpected connection.

I question his recipe and open the Ball Canning Book to the indicated page where his years of experience are a short and straightforward paragraph.

Unexpected match.

Dad boils apple flesh and burns apple skin. The aged shoulders he laments shove a sweet oozing paste through. He resists my offer to can the sauce.

“But the freezer is full,” I remind.

While I wait the twenty minutes for the jars to seal, I scan apple recipes, honey recipes, sweet recipes. Though I have cooked with honey for Rosh Hashanah before, I do not have a recipe that’s my own, to which I look for comfort and reassurance year after year. More often than not my annual nod to a sweet new year are lollipops I make sure to carry in my bag, a kind of backwards Halloween. I remove the applesauce from the canner, relieved to see it sealed.

Rain continues to pour on Monday. I shower and climb upstairs chilled in a wet towel I stare where the dog hair and piles of papers once waited. Each was a slim, light piece of living breathing entities that mattered to me. Though I prefer the dusted shelves and clear floors, I can’t help but ask, “Did I put the journals and manuscripts away because I gave up or did I find it a place that’s sustainable, a nicer word than permanent?”

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line with parchment.

At work I google, “apple cake”, “honey cake”, looking for references to Rosh Hashanah in the descriptions. I print a recipe for Spiced Honey Cake, according to a video, an unethical use of work resources. Still, I never shake the feeling that work steals from me every day. It contracted a body, yet receives each ounce of training and experience I have.

I stare at my computer screen with Facebook open, another act of larceny. A message pops up from the young woman who ran my library project until loyalties were tested. I met her when she was in fifth grade when we folded paper cranes for peace from recycled newsprint. The first year I ever made anything for Rosh Hashanah was in Guatemala with Ana. Honey cake tempered with bitter coffee. When I left, I didn’t unfriend her, but I’m not sure I forgave her, at least not to the extent I could give her any more of me.

“I’m pregnant,” the message reads.

“I’m-” I don’t even know what I am. She’s not the only one I haven’t written in a while. I resist Christmas and birthday cards, because if I ask how people are doing, then out of common courtesy, they will ask me.

“I’ll contact them again,” I promise. “This year, things will work out. When things work out. Once things have come together.”

Unexpected connection?

Combine two eggs, half cup sugar, half cup honey. Beat with hand mixer. Add one stick of butter and one teaspoon vanilla.

My hand mixer was a Christmas present and it makes life easier on more than one occasion. I am always glad to have the opportunity to use it, because it justifies my wanting it. Still, as my arm gains speed around the bowl, the gooey mixture comes out just fine with my own strength. The apple pieces are not in the recipe but a few leftover from applesauce dot the counter so I peel and chop and dust in flour.

It feels nice to use things up. It feels nice to have what I need. Though more was asked for, things work out as they are. I step outside and down the uneven cement steps careful not to slip. The calico cat with the bad eye eyes the sound of apple cores and skins hitting the compost bucket. Though I wished her dead when she scattered kittens not her own around the yard, it wasn’t worth shooting her anyway. I simply gave in to the dream of control, but nature always decides. The oozing pink from her behind makes me wince at her numbered time.

Unexpected match?

In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients: two cups flour, two teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon cinnamon, one teaspoon ginger, half teaspoon nutmeg, three quarters teaspoon salt.

I drive to work on Rosh Hashanah muffins tucked into Tupperware tipped on its side. Two lanes lead up to the stoplight, but I know just beyond the intersection, the right one ends. I check my blind spot over my left shoulder. A van hovers in my view. I wait. The light turns green. I click the windshield wipers faster when I remove my foot from the brake. The car moves forward. The van remains. I can’t get over. We move forward. The van won’t go ahead or drop back. Just before the right lane ends, another car turns off. I seize my opportunity and charge into the space. As I do, the van moves too into the lane that ends in a turn. I laugh to myself at my anger when we were both in each other’s way. I squint at the possibility of being in my own way, knowing I could have signaled my intent sooner.

Pour into pan.

I didn’t pour the batter into a pan, but decided on muffins instead. Smaller containers are easier to bake through. Individual items are easier to hand out. Why would liners be different than parchment paper anyway? For years, I used my example as cooking of the role experience plays in analysis, but I see my learning now. Only last week instead of prepackaged dressing, I added vinegar and oil to a soup recipe. I don’t want to forget the past, but written on parchment paper I feel joy again in pursuing the answer that works for me.

To connect. To match.

Bake for 40 minutes.

“Why did you make these?” a coworker asks at book club. She flips the pages of Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea: Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols by Rebecca K. Jager.

It was my turn to bring the snack for book club and to choose the book. “There is a plate with many foods with meanings. The idea is to eat sweet things. A lot is done with apple and honey. You eat sweet foods so you have a sweet new year.”

“This is really good.”

I smile. I had feared the muffins too dry because I spent time editing a manuscript and lost track of their time in the oven. I had feared not following the recipe exactly because I left out the nutmeg but compensated with cinnamon. I had feared making food connected to Rosh Hashanah at all because I would be sharing something that I am. I take the remaining muffins home and store the recipe from its tilt against the box. Next year, I promise, this is what I’ll make next year. This recipe is mine.

L’shana Tovah

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