I am a terrible person. Maybe not 100% terrible but certainly there are times when I call my ‘goodness’ into question. The other evening I was waiting for the elevator in my building’s lobby when I overheard a conversation between two women I know…let’s call them “Fran” and “Lenore.” Fran, late 40’s and sort of the First Lady of the building, asks Lenore, late 80’s and sort of the First Kvetch of the building, what she is doing for Passover. Lenore responds, “Well, the first night I may go to my cousin’s but she lives a few blocks away and the second I may go to a friend’s but she hasn’t been feeling well so, God willing, I will be somewhere.” I should add that her response took a manipulative two minutes while Fran was waiting breathlessly. “You have to come to us on the first night! Don’t go to your cousin!” Fran offers giddily. “Oh, that would be nice…” And then, as if she had just scored an endorsement from Oprah in her run for office, Fran squeals, “Yay!” and, turning to her husband, “I got her! She’ll be with us!”
In a million years I wouldn’t have 1) asked Lenore what she was doing for Passover 2) upon learning what she was doing ask her to forgo her potential plan and come to me if in fact I was hosting a Seder or 3) be excited if she said “yes.” That is not very nice of me. She is an old woman who lives alone, walks very slowly with a cane and eats dinner every single night at the City Grill restaurant around my corner. (In fact, she is such a good customer she is often escorted back to the building by one of the young waiters.) It’s a good thing Jews don’t believe in a Heaven vs. Hell afterlife situation because I know I’d never be looking at the pearly gates.
My reaction to her probably comes from two places. I’ve had guilt inflicting relationships with several older women in my day and know what never calling enough, never cheering them up enough, never visiting enough feels and sounds like. The slow, thick, syrupy voice of disappointment is one you don’t easily forget.
Then again this Lenore is not an altogether sympathetic person. For awhile we both served on a building committee, the purpose of which was to meet prospective residents, and there were several occasions when this woman said inappropriate things a little too loudly. There was a comment about how helpful the building staff is, especially the "fat, colored" fellow. I know. I wanted to crawl under the couch. There was the time when, after meeting with a very financially stable Asian-American man, she said, "Chinamen are very good with numbers." You know, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking I’m really not so terrible because who wants a racist at their Passover (or any dinner) table?
And this is where it gets kind of complicated. I don’t know anything about her but who knows how she was raised or what life path led her to be living alone at her age in a small apartment on the Upper West Side. Is she racist or ignorant? Is one worse than the other? And that is not to excuse either. I had a grandfather who lost his filter after he suffered from a stroke. When we took him to dinner for his 90th birthday he said (audibly), when the youngest and most attractive group of customers walked into the Morton’s in West Palm Beach, “Look at that, they let the coloreds in!” His wife, a bigger bigot than he, covered for him with an “oh, he doesn’t know what he’s saying!” But in fact, didn’t he? Hadn’t he been stripped of civility’s veneer by the short circuiting in his brain and wasn’t what he was saying expressing what he truly felt?
It is so awful that there was a time when views like theirs were easily and acceptably expressed among their like minded friends. Why was that remotely okay? Didn’t most of us come here (even if we have to go back a few generations) from somewhere else because of attitudes just like theirs? And that’s not even taking into consideration that some of us are here because our ancestors were ripped from their African homeland as recently as 150 years ago. And here it is coming on Passover—the time Jews mark their own freedom from slavery. The irony is just incredible.
There is that great Seinfeld episode when Jerry and Elaine are at a bakery and Jerry buys a black and white cookie. Using the cookie as a metaphor for racial harmony he says:
“Uhm, The thing about eating the black and white cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved.”
And of course because it is Seinfeld he winds up getting an upset stomach and literally tossing his cookie.
Jerry’s nausea to one side, I like to look to these macaroons as my own contribution to racial harmony. The orange zest cuts through the cloying sweetness coconut macaroons often succumb to and the dark chocolate just make them that much better. The cookies are great for Passover since they are flour-free but are yummy anytime. I can’t influence Lenore (I don’t think she’s noticed she is no longer invited to serve on the committee) but I know our Passover table will honor all those whose enslavement and persecution allowed us to be free. Okay, I’m not so bad. Thanks for reading while I figured that out. But now I can't stop humming “Ebony and Ivory."
Look to the Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten, 2002
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14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 2 small (or 1 large) oranges
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips
Preheat oven to 325. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, vanilla, and orange zest in a large bowl.In bowl of electric mixer with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt on high speed until medium-firm peak.Gently fold egg whites into coconut mixture until fully incorporated.Using 2 teaspoon ice cream scoop (1 3/4 " diameter) or 2 teaspoons drop batter onto cookie sheets.Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Place chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl. Nuke for 30 second intervals, stirring between blasts until chocolate is completed melted.
Dip bottom of macaroons into melted chocolate and place top down on rack or wax paper lined cookie sheet. Allow to set and serve.
Yield: 4 dozen cookies