There are many benefits to my work, which is, primarily, journalism, a line of work not always thought of in the same moment as redemption, but perhaps the most continually satisfying and enriching part of it is the people that I meet. Often, there is not only inspiration from their works but in their beings. A case in point happened just yesterday. A couple of months ago I went to interview Nori Odoi, a woman who is well known in this area for making great Christmas cookies. Her cookies, which you will read about in Yankee when the season arrives, were amazing. But the expanse of her character is what I could not fit into the story (this is so often the case — it is what is outside the focus of the story that brings the most joy!).
Yesterday Nori e-mailed me to say she was making “Hamantaschen” — a special cookie in the Jewish celebration of Purim. She explained that she is not Jewish but that she enjoys making these cookies for her friends. And she told me the story of Haman, the evil king who plotted to kill the Jews. The story is told in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament and Nori did a pretty good job of telling me how Queen Esther risked her life to save her people and how Haman was destroyed. Haman apparently always wore a triangular hat, which is the shape they chose for the Hamantaschen, a buttery cookie filled with various fruits. In celebration of Purim, the Jewish people have a tradition of giving each other gifts of food and that food is often the triangular Hamantaschen, which, in Yiddish, means Haman’s pocket. I think what appeals to Nori most about the story is the magic of the giving.
I had found that Nori, a woman with a radiant smile and a true sense of generosity, is often busy making food for various reasons and that her work is often for a charity. The last time I’d visited her, she was in the midst of preparing Moroccan food for an African celebration, a benefit for the local international museum. She explained that Purim was last Tuesday. “But I’ve never let myself be tied down to technicalities like that!” she said. She told me she first sampled Hamantaschen when she was in second grade and a Jewish friend brought them to school for a treat. She thought they were the best cookies she had ever eaten. “When my favorite Hamantaschen bakery in Newton, Massachusetts, closed, I set out on a quest to find the best recipe I could,” she explained. She found ten recipes. She could not decide so she made all ten and took the results in to her workplace where she asked her colleagues to vote on the one they liked the best. Everyone liked the same one. That’s the recipe she has used ever since.
So yesterday, which also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, Nori was making her annual Hamantaschen and planning to take them around to give to various friends. Lucky me, I was one of the ones she put onto her route this year. “You may find a shamrock on your doorstep today,” she wrote in her e-mail. Later in the day, I was working at my computer and heard a faint knock on the door. I went to see and there was Nori, big smile and hands filled with goodies. She had first a large cookie in the shape of a shamrock to give me. It was decorated with green sparkles. The icing, she explained, was made with Bailey’s Irish Cream. On the porch table, she unpacked the bag filled with the Hamantaschen. The dough was folded to form a triangle around a bright jelly filling. They were all a slightly different color and she pointed to each one, “This one is apple, this one is raspberry, poppy seed, black cherry, fig, apricot.” There was a big variety and she was asking me to choose two. With great difficulty, I chose the apple and the black cherry (though the poppyseed was a regret later). It had been an otherwise ordinary day and all of a sudden there was joy. Delicious joy.
As she was leaving I noticed that the license plate on her car spelled “hpythgt.” I looked at those letters for a moment. “Happy thought?” I guessed. “Yes,” she said, “that’s what my husband calls me.” Of course. Nori is indeed a happy thought.