My mother was always anxious about her matzo balls. She was proud of them — and yet she was, too, on a never-ending quest for perfection, a quest dogged by the fear of failure, a fear balanced between the search for lightness and the need to hold things together, a balancing act which echoes almost every dilemma in life.
Some folks, of course, knew no such worries. At Kaplan’s Delicatessen, on 59th Street — where my grandmother would order a tongue sandwich sliced from a disturbingly human-looking (if hugely engorged) organ that sat perched, raspy taste-buds and all, above the counter — the matzo balls were Sinkers, dense and compact, the size of billiard balls, tasting of almost nothing, carrying within them the memory of food you ate to fill you up because you had no other choice.
My mother scorned such matzo balls: she was after vigor and vibrancy, spring and surprise. For a while her matzo balls were so light they threatened to disintegrate in the soup that bathed them; “matzo klops”, she called them, laughing, but they were delicious all the same. I didn’t help her make them. She was too nervous to let me help. Now she’s been gone for just five years I thought — finally — I would experiment again with making my own. A few of my innovations would cause her horror, but I like to think the end result would make her proud. All I’d like is to be able to share a bowl of chicken soup with her, so I will share this with you, instead.