Last month back in Paris, I made a mini tartine for lunch, and as soon as I took I bite, I immediately tasted “home” in Long Island, New York.
On this tartine, I had spread semi-dry goat cheese, two pieces of blush-pink figs and two teaspoons of honey.
It wasn’t the toasted campagne bread or the chèvre that brought me back to my childhood house, where I used to swing from the tire hung on the branch of a giant weeping willow tree in the backyard. It wasn’t the fresh figs either.
Rather, it was the honey, which, ironically came from Mali, Africa. I actually bought the jar in Casablanca, Morocco, yet there I was eating in Paris, thinking of home in New York.
Funny how that happens, isn’t it?
Honey is home because home is where my parents raised me as a semi-conservative Jew who dipped quarter-ed up mealy Macintosh apples into bowls of it over Rosh Hashanah.
Honey is home because home is where my Great Aunt Sadie’s (now my Grandma Shirley’s) honey cake comes around the table each fall, creating “ooohs” and “ahhs” and “oy, it’s so fattening” from those about to take three pieces.
Honey is home because home is the first place I’d ever seen and tasted that weird pyramid concoction of walnuts, honey-dipped challah and maraschino cherries known as Teiglach.
Honey is home because home is where you start out and then leave and then eventually come back to because it’s just that sweet.
There are only a few other things I eat with honey:
I drop a tablespoon or two in my tea when I’m sick. But it often melts too quickly to really taste it.
I sometimes top a few gooey drops into a heaping bowl of Greek yoghurt with fruit, but even then its flavor gets lost in the natural sugars of the berries and melons.
Personally, I’ve never been one to lick a spoonful of the sticky stuff on its own like some people do peanut butter or Nutella or cookie dough.
Somehow, simply eating it on an apple or challah, or with a raw fig and some cheese is the way to my heart and therefore the way to my home.
For me, going home has never been easy, which is ironic considering I was the kid who cried during sleepovers and never studied abroad or went to sleep away camp. Once I finally left for college though, and then got the travel bug in my early 20s after graduating, coming home always felt like The End of something: The End of an adventure. The End of a dreamy romance. The End of a tan. The End of my savings.
The End of What Hadn’t Happened Yet.
Before I even pulled up to the gate at JFK, I’d begin plotting the next Beginning, which in my mind meant something far, far away from home; far, far away from honey.
Yet this time, when my American Airlines flight touched down at JFK after 9 months of living so far away for so long, something had shifted. I was excited. I felt satisfied with the adventures I’d accrued and the life experiences I’d endured since last leaving for the unknown. I knew that this Rosh Hashanah, when I dipped apples in honey, gobbled Aunt Sadie’s Honey Cake and attempted to take apart that Teiglach—all to signify a “sweet New Year”—I’d savor the taste of home at home, yet feel assured that new beginnings are always on the horizon and best celebrated with those you love.
L’Shana Tova à tous!
Great Aunt Sadie’s Honey Cake
Mix and sift together:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. all spice
Separate 2 eggs and set aside
2 egg yolks, 1/2 cup oil and 1 cup sugar
Add 1 cup honey
Add dry ingredients, alternating with 1 cup black coffee
Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites
Add 1/2 cup or more of chopped nuts
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until done