It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And throughout it all, there were chocolate hazelnut bars.
I am surrounded by the din of children screaming. Kind, usually polite kids are running around the swamp-coloured room hopped up on sugar and excitement, their unnaturally distorted features illuminated by the sharp light of fluorescent lamps. Adults constantly interrupt their conversations to pick up an infant, calm down a crying toddler or swaddle a baby. As I sit there, chewing on a salad that is in itself worthy of being a conversation a piece but, in the midst of this din, is all but forgotten, my mind drifts to one simple conclusion: if there is a hell, this must be what if feels like.
It is my first Passover night this year.
In a gathering intended to facilitate avid discussion and illuminated insight, we spent our time avoiding difficult questions and refusing to see the personal bondages that hold us back. Surrounded by other immigrants for whom these are the first years living away from home, I expected the meaning of Passover to be particularly acute; instead, I watched adults eating pasta and pounding back beers in an effort to forget, for at least a moment, the ennui of everyday life.
When another guest brought a mile-high tiramisu cake to the table, its top crowned with curls of cream whose trains cascaded down the sides like waterfalls, I turned to my neighbour and asked in wonderment: “They made a kosher-for-Passover tiramisu cake?” (to be kosher for Passover, foods must be unleavened and otherwise free of wheat, except in the form of matza). The response was a hearty laughter, picked up by nearly everyone at the table. Apparently, I was naive to assume that one’s personal choices to keep kosher would be respected in communal dishes – even the potato gratin had bread crumbs covering its golden top, I was later informed.
As I tuck into the gluten-free, vegan, paleo chocolate hazelnut bars that I had worked so hard to keep free of any allergens, in respect of other guests’ diets, I feel the familiar sting of tears threatening to come up my nose. They are met with oohs and ahhs by those who care to try them, to abandon the familiar comfort of what is, by all evidence, a delicious tiramisu cake… But it barely registers.
We never even crack open the Haggadah.
I am seated at the end of a long table, lit by the soft glow of standing paper lamps. All around me people are singing, breaking their teeth through unfamiliar words in an ancient language. Wine is everywhere: in our cups, on our plates and under the tablecloths. My stomach is growling with hunger and my feet throb, swollen from hours spent chopping, stirring and measuring food for two dinners. Yet my face is locked in an ear-splitting, honest, radiant smile that is emanating from the pits of my soul: this is everything that Passover is about.
Life, love, sadness and laughter. Discussion and introspection. Disagreement and befuddlement. Interaction. It is all here, shared among 20 people who don’t even speak the same three languages. Who have not all been through a significant move, or an earth-shattering loss, or life-altering passion. Who are all so different and some of whom don’t even like each other very much.
Yet at this moment, we couldn’t be closer or have more in common. Perhaps it is because we chose, for two hours, to put our hunger and want and weariness aside and come together in song, and talk, and yes – even prayer. Or perhaps it is because it’s the end of a Saturday, and none of us have kids to hug, or share our joy, or steal our precious free moments.
But I like to think it’s because we choose to feel like this.
When I bring out the gluten-free, vegan, paleo chocolate hazelnut bars that I had worked so hard to keep free of any allergens, in respect of other guests’ diets, I feel the familiar sting of tears threatening to come up my nose. But this time, the reason is entirely different.
The bars are eaten faster than we can boil tea, met with oohs and ahhs from grateful friends. And as a tall blond Russian man takes out his guitar and the dark-haired curly Romanian girl sitting two seats down requests to hear an Israeli song she remembers from her childhood, while the neighbours begin to bang on our ceiling, my mind drifts to one simple conclusion: some experiences cut across cultures.
- 1 cup almonds
- ½ cup desiccated coconut
- ⅓ cup Medjool dates
- 2 TBs coconut oil
- 4 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 cups cashews, soaked
- 1 ounce unsweetened dark chocolate
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 2 TB maple syrup or 2-3 dates (the dates will change the texture to being a little softer)
- 2 TBs coconut oil
- Non-dairy milk, as needed (coconut milk is best)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ounce unsweetened dark chocolate (optional, makes the chocolate hazelnut bars not raw)
- 1 TB coconut oil (optional, makes the chocolate hazelnut bars not raw)
- Hazelnuts, peeled, toasted and chopped
- Soak and cashews in a bowl for at least one hour. Drain thoroughly.
- Cover a bar pan or a tall-sided baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, grind all crust ingredients together until mixture holds together well and you can form it into shapes. Press evenly into your prepared baking pan.
- Add all filling ingredients to food processor and process until mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. If mixture is too runny, add more coconut oil, one tablespoon at a time. If mixture is too hard, add non-dairy milk, one tablespoon at a time. Taste for sweetness and add more maple syrup or dates, as desired. Pour filling into baking pan. Chill in freezer.
- Place a small bowl inside a saucepan filled halfway with water. Add remaining chocolate and coconut oil to bowl, and cook on very low heat until fully melted.
- Remove bars from freezer. Drizzle bar mixture with melted chocolate and sprinkle chopped hazelnut pieces. Press on the hazelnut pieces very lightly so they don't just fall off the bars when they set.
- Chill in freezer for at least 1 hour. Cut into squares, and serve chilled - bars can be kept in the fridge.