“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.” – Mary Oliver
Sometimes I marvel at how hard it can be just to be myself, to be the person I expect of myself, to be the version of myself that others probably expect, too. I end up staring off into space, dreamily fixed elsewhere, thinking abstractly about where I’ve been and how far I still have to go in a world that paints me flat. Sometimes my friends privately settle on the word ‘melancholy’ after they’ve known me for a few months. They present the word to me carefully, like a confession of their judgment, holding it by its edges, setting it carefully into my hands. Melancholy. It’s as if the word itself, a little gift, might capture and hold my disquietude, the parts of me that clamor against patters, expectations, what’s tried and true, and if I hear it, perhaps – poof! – fulfillment and happiness! Thinking of this, I don’t want to write another ‘perfect’ or, even, the ‘best’ hamantaschen recipe, the tried and true the ones we all love, and know. And what we all expect. I want something else today.
On Purim, we celebrate Jewish survival and redemption. It is one of the most popular Jewish holidays because it is built on hope. Purim is a reminder that no matter how bad the circumstances, or whatever we fear around the corner, things will turn out well in the end. It’s greatly loved for the merriment to be had celebrating Esther’s victory with the king, her great success, not to mention her great skill and tact. It is with this in mind that Jews observe Purim. The day before Purim is a fast day, followed by two days of celebration: dancing, merrymaking, feasting. Jews will linger in temple into the early morning hours, drinking and masquerading, dressed in full costumes – drunkenly assuming new identities.
You might wonder what this has to do with melancholy, what this celebration has to do with worry, confusion, otherness, frustration, sadness. You might wonder what this joy has to do with an emotion we are told to cover or cure. I say it has a great deal to do. There is a reason we fast – a way to prepare for feasts, for joy, celebration, and newness, a way to prepare to stand in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. It seems to me that in order to get to true joy, the kind of joy that binds, in the face of increasingly terrifying rifts between humanity, nature, and the divine, we must first understand what tears us apart. Perhaps, I’m suggesting, we have become too complacent. Perhaps we have become too dismissive of this sober thoughtfulness, or this melancholy, which is really but a bridge.
Truth be told, I am not very hopeful about the earth ever returning to its purity that I am far too young to remember. It’s already something ready-made, automatic. But it’s clear to me that in losing our connection to nature, we are also forgetting that we need the earth. I am frightened by suffering in the world, the lack of connection to each other and the ground beneath of our feet, our singular sadness, our often singular joy. In my melancholy, I am able to touch base with all we have lost. I get closer to seeing where we have been, and where we really need to go. I desperately want to make people remember what the world was meant to be.
Melancholy is a word that does not shame me. I am melancholy because I long to be the in characters of everything, every day, and how can I be without listening to the good, and the bad? Without letting it sink in? On Purim, after fasting, I get to be those other people, trees, clouds. We all do. I find this to be an invitation to freedom, to find something new and delightful, “and that happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive.” In my melancholy, my questioning, my newness, and in finally exploring the lives of others, I have found that it is humanly possible to be deeply joyful. And I’m quite looking forward to some drunken smiles. Melancholy, you say? Yesterday’s shameless gift, today’s clamoring joy.
Vegan Cardamom- Fig Hamantaschen Makes about 2 dozen cookies
Dough • 2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ cup non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon almond milk
• 1 flax egg (1:3 ground flax seed to water ratio – teaspoons)
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil
Filling • Fig preserves
• Ground cardamom
• Powdered sugar
Method 1) Combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir thoroughly. In a separate bowl, make the flax egg (1 teaspoon ground flax seed and 3 teaspoons water. Stir thoroughly. Let sit).
2) Soften the Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine). Slowly stir in the liquid ingredients (maple syrup, vanilla extract, almond milk, the flax egg, and coconut oil) as the vegan margarine softens. Then add the margarine.
3) The dough will take awhile to combine. Most recipes call for a food processor, but I was fine without one. Just use a large fork to it all up. Then kneed on a well floured board until it is only slightly sticky. This will mean you may need to add flour. Just make sure the dough is still soft.
4) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap for at least 2 hours.
5) Get your filling ready at this point. I simply mixed ground cardamom with fig preserves in a small mixing bowl, but also baked some of my hamentaschen with cherry preserves and lemon zest, for the color and taste variety. (The options here are endless: pumpkin spice filling, poppy-seed, salted caramel, ginger-chocolate even!)
6) Once the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Flatten the dough to about 1/8th inch thickness and cut into circles (the open end of a glass works well) about 2 to 3 inches. Put a teaspoon of the cardamom-laced fig preserves in the middle of each circle. Pinch the dough into triangles with the filling securely inside. Pinch closed more than you’d think is necessary, as the cookies open while being baked.
7) Arrange cookies on a slightly oiled or parchment-lined cookie sheet, or, even better, a silicon baking mat. Bake for 15-17 minutes until the cookies are golden. Allow them to cool thoroughly on baking racks.
Rachel Grossman graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Language and Literature before spending three years in the former Soviet Union. Having spent two years in Ukraine with the Peace Corps and one year in Russia for graduate school, she now lives and works in Washington D.C. in International Development. She’s always on some sort of a journey, spiritual or physical, loves inventive cooking, photography, and rainbow knee high socks. An aspiring vegan, and full-time vegetarian, she is otherwise known as the Heebavore.