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Blank stare. Nada. Zip.

At this point, I know to expect it.

For years now, each erev Shavuot, on the eve of the holiday, I receive two joke phone calls from two good friends.

We laugh as they reference a supposedly beautiful and delicious dairy Shavuot holiday meal I once prepared.

The reason it’s a joke is because years ago, just before Shavuot, with some social politics of break-ups to contend with, a friend’s planned holiday dinner invitation had to be cancelled.

Rolling along with this friend’s disappointment, I told her I’d prepare a Shavuot meal she could join instead. Since it was so last minute, everyone already had plans and I couldn’t really invite others, plus it was a nice opportunity to bond. So it was going to just be this friend, myself and one of my roommates at the time.

Now you have to understand, I love Shavuot and I love dairy meals. I was more than happy to have a reason to cook some dairy delicacies. Because it was last minute I was somewhat limited, but with the help of cooking bleeding into the holiday itself (circumstances warranted it!), I managed to knock out a nice holiday-level meal I was proud of: caramelized onion croissants, an artistic platter of salmon nicoise, homemade blintzes accompanied by a pink strawberry sour cream sauce, a spanakopita, a colorful fresh salad, and perhaps there was a vegetable tart, too. For dessert there were petite cheesecakes and cheese babkes, along with a pitcher of Godiva-infused iced coffee.

I slaved to prepare this meal, wanting it to be a show of TLC for my friend, and a decent consolation for the cancelled dinner invitation. From the bread to the iced coffee, it was all homemade. And a good time was had by all.

I forget exactly how it happened, but fast forward a couple of years, and there were two of us talking Shavuot plans again, when in context I was suddenly flooded with fond memories of that lovely dairy meal and wonderful conversation that lasted long into the night. I made a casual, nostalgic reference to that near-impromptu meal.

Blank stare. Nada. Zip. Nothing registering on her face. Clearly there was zero recollection of what now, momentarily, seemed in my mind like a phantom meal.

That’s OK, though. No problem. I chalked it up to the chaotic emotional time. Clearly, the second guest, my then roommate, would recall the memorable meal with crystalline clarity. After all, it only lasted until about 2 a.m.!

When this second guest and I spoke, also making plans for Shavuot, this time I intentionally referenced the meal with some kind of joke. But, alas.

Again, there was just a blank, awkward silence.

“Wait, guys, remember the stress of that cancelled meal? Remember those blintzes I served garnished with fresh cherries? Remember we spoke about x,y and z? Remember . . . ?”

Nope. Neither had a smidgen of a memory of any of it.

I jokingly declared to these two friends, I’m not preparing any last-minute phantom Shavuot break-up meals replete with homemade blintzes anymore.

We had a good laugh about it. And while it would have been nice if they had remembered the meal, I didn’t really care about that.

As sure as I was I had prepared that Shavuot meal, as sure as I was of the memory of it, as sure as I was even of the content of some of that night’s conversation . . . I was secretly weirded out.

I mean, not one, but both of these friends, had zero recollection of this Shavuot evening.

The whole thing became a longstanding joke between the three of us. They remembered, blow by blow, every detail of the lead-up to that year’s Shavuot, up until the meal we shared.

I harbored fantasies of throwing a Proust-like madeleine-memory style repeat of that dinner menu, with the hopes of imposing an artificial memory trigger for my friends. Like Marcel’s lemon tea soaked madeleine, my friends would just taste a bit of each of those same prepared foods and this would strip the cloudy years away, and return to their consciousness a perfect memory of that dinner.

By hook or by crook, I was going to bring this dinner memory back to my friends’ minds, and finally have confirmation that I did not imagine the whole thing, let alone validate my sanity.

Well, I never did host that contrived Proust-like dinner, proof never came and instead we just kept laughing about it through the years. Every Shavuot my friends talk of the perfect menu and dinner they will be hosting, jokingly naming dishes from my “phantom” meal. Or teasing me about what a fantastic Shavuot cook and hostess I am. They’ll jokingly ask me what I am preparing for Shavuot, followed by, “let me guess, salad nicoise and homemade blintzes . . . ”

Well. Never underestimate the power of a recipe request. Imagine my relief when I received the following message this week:

“Hey Tehilla. This is going to sound crazy, but remember when I crashed at 2F (my apartment at time of said meal) for Shavuos and you had made a little meal with blank & blank, where one of the courses was blintzes with a pink sauce? Anyway, if you remember what I’m talking about, I was wondering if I could have the recipe . . . ”

And never underestimate the power of hosting a guest, even if it is just for sleeping.

She might just prove to be the conduit who brings vindication after 12 years!

Now I’m the one who has two erev Shavout phone calls to make.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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