SUMMER STORIES, III   The Fruit of the Vine

Here I am, alone among the thirty thousand-odd residents of Broome, the sole shomer shabbat*. For this evening’s sabbath meal I have challah, (the delicious plaited loaves of brioche), I have candles, I have cooked a delicious meal for four, (which I’ll eat unaided). But something’s lacking, the kosher grape juice for kiddush. I left it in the city and here in Broome neither Woollies nor Coles stocks kosher supplies. But they do sell grapes.  

 

 

No problem. Buy grapes, squeeze grapes, chant the kiddush, drink juice! I purchase green grapes, sweet and tasty; and purple grapes, great bursting spheres, less sweet but full of character. I’ll include both and create a rose. My technique will be the ancient one: crush the grapes underfoot in the old-fashioned way, with but a single variation: to create a tinea-free beverage, enclose grapes in a sealable bag, zip it locked, drop bag into a steel bowl and trample. Simple, yes? No. These grapes are tough. They’re putting up a fight. After a good deal of trampling I haven’t burst a single one. There they lie, those green pearls, gleaming insolently up at me. I tramp harder, engaging my heels now. No good. Intact still, my green foe lies unjuiced, defiant, at my feet.

 

 

It’s personal now. 

 

 

I try my luck with the purple. Those spheres, their skins looking stretched to breaking, should be easily persuaded. But no, stubborn atheists these, like their cousins in green. I clench a fist and regard its hard, cruel bones. I hoist the footbowl, place it on a bench top, rest my knuckles on the plastic bag and lean down hard. Something gives. Encouraged, I push down harder. More movement, a slipping. Anticipating free fluid, I look down. No juice, just grapes in a bag of plastic…and air! That’s the problem, I’ve been bouncing these demons inside their cushions of air! I unzip the ziplock, deflate it and apply my shoulder, my steeled upper limb, my fist, and I push down and rotate as I push. Now, now is my foe giving way. But the fight remains dour. Grape by grape they split, and grape by squeezed grape they yield their life’s juice.

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes pass. Both grape and grapist are sweating now.  After thirty minutes I have collected half a small glass of pale silvery juice and a similar volume of pinkish nectar. The two combined become a translucent rose. Violence grudgingly rewarded, a victor feeling strangely compromised. How did grape-squashing become a moral test? How did I fail it?  

 

 

 

Absent-mindedly I pop a green grape into my mouth. My tongue pushes the little balloon up against my bony palate. A little further pressure and the skin gives way. Sweet juice flows and my molars engage and grind the pulp. In midgrape my mouth stops its motion. Now I have it: this grape, like all the grapes of my life, had to be forced. Ostensibly a mild soul, have I hidden my innate violence in silent acts of mastication? Certainly a cruncher, an audible biter down, one whose apples snap loudly as I sunder them, who is it who bites thus? And what is it that bites me?

 

 

 

Might there be another way? There is another way, I know it, I’ve seen it. My mother, God rest her gentle soul, never burst a grape. Mum enjoyed grapes but brutality never occurred to her. Instead she’d peel a grape, slide it into her mouth and suck it to sweet oblivion. 

 

 

 

 

*Shomer Shabbat, one who honours the Sabbath, one who guards it and makes it holy.

Job Opportunity

A word jumped out at me from a shop window as I jogged along the Carlisle Street shopping strip this morning. The word, writ large, was

PORK.

Not remarkable, given the shop was a butcher’s. Beneath the word that sprang out at me I read 

          VEAL
 

                 CHICKEN
 

                              BEEF.
The words were laid out so they descended across the window stepwise. I slowed to take in the aesthetics of the butcher shop.
Beneath the list of viands I saw a placard which read,
HELP WANTED, (Junior).
Drop in Resume.
So I did.

“Dear Mister Meat,

I write pursuant to your request for my resume. Please consider me for the position of ‘Help (junior).’

Name: Howard Goldenberg.

Born: January 8, 1946

Qualifications: Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery;

Diploma of Obstetrics of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practice.

Achievements: Founder of the Stomach Club of Australasia.

Winner (over 60 years, male), Northern Territory Marathon, 2008, 2015. Editor, Mount Scopus College school magazine, 1962.

1972-2002, Mohel (ritual circumcisor) to the not quite devout Jews of Melbourne and Tasmania. 

I enjoy meat. I cook it, I serve it, I enjoy the pleasure it gives my family. When I say I enjoy meat, I mean it in the same way I like other men’s wives: I admire from afar. I eat only kosher. Although I’m a vegetarian I am not a gluten assassin or a fodmapster.

I do not work on the Jewish Sabbath or on the Festivals ordained by scripture. I’ll happily work on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and New Years Day and on Easter Day and on Anzac Day, so long as they do not fall on the Holy Days mentioned above. Also Halloween, Thanksgiving and Festivus.

Likewise I will gladly work on Melbourne Cup Day, a festival which never falls on a Saturday and which competes with no Biblical Festival. 

WHAT DO I BRING TO THIS POSITION THAT DIFFERENTIATES ME FROM RIVAL APPLICANTS?

1. Experience – not many juniors have experience like mine.
2. I am a good speller.
3. My degree in Surgery and my experience in performing autopsies stand me in good stead with animals, dead or alive.
4. You know I won’t pinch your sausage. 
5. As a lapsed mohel I know my way around wieners, offcuts and giblets
WARNING: DON’T GET AGEIST ON ME. I am backed by family members who are feared attack dogs of the Law.
Inevitably the competition for my services is intense. I suggest you write by return post and I shall consider your application.”

 

Sour Dough Lady

The grandkids are baying for bread. The bakery looks promising – lots of crusty artisanal breads, the right smells, ladies in aprons waiting to serve. It’s not a premises certified kosher, but bread this good ought to be kosher. I need to rule out forbidden ingredients.
” Can you tell me which of your breads is vegan?”
” What?” Apron lady frowns as if I accused her of something.
I produce a placating smile and rephrased the question:” Do you have any breads without animal fats?”
Now apron lady knows I am out to trap her. “NO!”
The monosyllable is accented, Eastern European.
A super nice smile, lots of friendly teeth:” Do you think I can have a word with the baker? There’s a tribe of flour-annointed blokes in white hats and aprons baking away behind the shop assistant.
“Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why you want baker?” The floral apron is an iron curtain.
“I think the baker might have more…information.”

Information, informant, the lady shop assistant knows these things. She knows these things from the days of queuing for bread. This customer has reached the front of the queue. No information is necessary. Buy or go!
“I tell you already – NOT. You not speak to baker. I KNOW.”
“Thank you.”
I go.

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A crunchier cereal than usual

While eating my breakfast cereal this morning I noticed a small brownish-black, curved item, the size and shape of a carraway seed. It didn’t taste like carraway, lacking that distinctive aroma.

As I ate I noticed more of these and removed some. The cereal I favour is GrapeNuts, manufactured in the USA by Post. It is crunchy and malty (and doubtless full of salt and sugar to enhance my hypertension and to speed the onset of diabetes.)
I really like Grape Nuts.
If you examine the packet you’ll notice the letter “K” that signifies its kosher status.
I tried to avoid eating the little brown-black crescents because, although they too were crunchy, and not without aroma, I could not be certain whether they too are kosher*,
Quite quickly I surmised that a mouse had breakfasted before I had and then used the cereal packet as his toilet. While chewing on my compound breakfast I thought of my friend’s brother who had invested all his savings in superannuation over a period of twenty years. One day the manager of his Super ran away with his life savings. My friend’s brother said: “It was only money. It was never really mine: money never is anyone’s – not permanently. It came to me from others and it went to my Super man. Now he’s spending it and it’s going to other people.” I realized that my GrapeNuts were just like that money. Made from wheat and barley, they came from the earth. They passed through my mouse and now they have entered me and will eventually make their exit and return to the earth. Like my friend’s brother’s money, the GrapeNuts were never really mine. Presently they will fertilize new wheat and fresh barley an someone else can have a turn.
Perhaps you will be next.
* Guidance from rabbis or others is sought on the kosher status of mouse droppings. As we know
a Jew may drink the milk of a non-kosher animal, so long as that animal is a human. Can we consume the ordure of another mammal?

GrapeNuts

GrapeNuts

A Trip to Cuba – Part 1

Early in 1999 I ask Annette whether she might take a couple of weeks off at the end of the year for a trip to mark our thirtieth wedding anniversary which falls on December 3. I propose to take her somewhere she has never previously visited, a place which she has always wanted to see. She will need her passport and her sunglasses, and she will discover the name of her destination as she boards the plane on December 1.

Surprises have littered the twisting path of our three decades of marriage, and frequently enough they have caused one or other of us to stumble. Generally I have created the surprises and as time has passed Annette has become nervous of them.So it is with our surprise anniversary destination: Annette becomes nervous, then edgy then agitated. Soon the surprise raises serious doubt whether we will reach that milestone as man and wife. So I tell Annette it is to be Cuba.

Annette is immediately enthused and sets about refreshing her Spanish and buying and playing every Cuban CD available in Australia. At the Melbourne Writers’ Festival she bails up the great Oscar Hijuelos and asks him for a reading list so she can prepare for our visit his homeland. As Annette is the only gringa in Australia who can pronounce Hijuelos, Oscar does her will.

On December 1, 1999, Annette sets out with her passport, her sunglasses and an English-Spanish dictionary. I accompany her and keep the journal that follows.  Continue reading