rosh hashana simanim

Fish Eyes, A Memoir

Levi was about nine years old and heavily into grossing his sisters out.

“I’ll eat anything,” he boasted. “Even fish eyes.”

Eeeww. When had I ever served him fish eyes? But he strutted around talking about fish eyes, knowing he was safe. Who would ever test him on it? His friends were  impressed. Wallah, that’s macho, eating fish eyes!

Then Rosh HaShana came up and I started cooking the traditional simanim, symbolic foods to auger good things for the new year. Black-eyed peas are one. I’d never cooked black-eyed peas before, but I decided to this time. Then I noticed how much like little eyes they looked.

Hm.

I made up a little salad with the peas, and waited.

My parents joined us for the holiday, the guests arrived, and on the night of  Rosh HaShana, we all sat down to eat. I casually put a bowlful of black-eyed pea salad in front of my boy.

“Fish eyes for you, honey,” I said. “Since you like them so much.”

Levi looked down at all those little white beans with the black dots, and slowly turned green. His  sisters watched, horrified. Was he really going to eat all those fish eyes? My parents, in on the joke, exchanged amused glances. He bravely poked his fork into the bowl and winced as the beans yielded.

“I’m kind of full already, Mommy,” he said. “I’ll eat them later.”

I looked at him sitting there and I melted. He was just a rambuctious little boy, and the joke had gone far enough.  I explained that it was a joke, just beans, and he accepted it with good grace. But he never did eat any.

Eliezer is now 34 and says he has forgiven me, but he still doesn’t eat black-eyed peas.

I remembered this a few days ago when I was making fish soup out of the bones and heads of some fresh bass. With carrots, celery, tomato, a bay leaf, onion, chunks of potato and cilantro, it did make a rich, flavorful broth. A little drizzle of olive oil – a squeeze of lemon. Perfect.

I was pleased to have used up all the fish, even the bones, which still had some meat clinging to them. But I knew I had to remove every trace of the heads, because The Little One can’t bear to see fish heads. When she orders fish in a restaurant, I have to ask for the head to be removed in the kitchen. On Rosh HaShanah, we hide the fish head siman under a napkin.

So I took a slotted spoon and began straining out the bones. Oops. The heads fell apart, bones and cartilage separating all over the pan, and – where’d the eyes go? Oh no. There were four little boiled eyes in the soup somewhere, and I had to get them out or risk my daughter fainting at the table.

Sighing, I took up the strainer and ladled the soup into it. Aha – got one in there with all the carrot and celery pieces. Got two. Got three fish eyes, but where was the last one? I strained everything twice, poking under the vegetables with a spoon and turning every piece of fish over. No fish eye.

Well, maybe I’d already strained it out or something. It was lunchtime, and I had to get the soup on the table. I’d made a particularly savory herb bread to go with it, and the smell of fish and herbs and fresh bread was driving the family insane.

I must say, the soup was good. The Husband and The Little One served themselves seconds and sliced more bread. I looked into the pan – there was still enough for me to have seconds too. I ladled it into my bowl, put my spoon in, and sat frozen, looking at the little boiled eye.

I turned it over with my spoon, but it floated up again.

Was this some kind of karmic retribution for tormenting an innocent nine-year child all those years ago? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What I did was, I threw the damn thing out.

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