We are in the midst of the month of Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh Hashanah, during which we are supposed to prepare for the coming Days of Awe. Some people do charity work. Others make phone calls to friends and family members.
I bust out my hefty Jewish cookbook library and plan the meals for the coming holiday season.
Planning holiday meals is how I’ve mentally (and physically and logistically) prepared for the coming holidays, particularly over the past year. Hanukkah, Pesach, Purim, Tu B’Shvat — not to mention the aforementioned Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot — all prescribe eating and drinking (being merry not necessarily required) as part of the ritual.
In my mind, if food is obligatory, it better be good. And “good” takes planning.
And if you get out what you put into a holiday, what better way than to steep yourself in studying them? Every year I learn something new, just by trying to figure out what to serve. Planning requires research, and research almost always elicits new tidbits of information, even if you’ve done it your whole life.
For example, here’s my progress on Rosh Hashanah:
OK, so Rosh Hashanah starts the new year. What does that mean? Even if things aren’t going well, you have this new, formal opportunity to start making things better. How do we signal that? By wishing each other a sweet new year and eating sweet foods, like honey, apples, and tzimmes. Those are the traditional ones; what others fit the bill? There are carrots, as well as raisins, dates, and other dried fruits whose sweetness has been concentrated. I always eat apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah — what other ways can I represent this? Cookies that look like books and have pockets of jam sealed inside them? Carrots as dessert? Pears with the entree?
So, that’s where I’ve landed — so far, anyway. Right now, I’m toying with the idea of serving homemade honeyed challah, apple cider braised chicken, raisin-carrot-cabbage salad, and rustic apple tart (recipe to come!) and carrot cake with honey-cream cheese frosting for dessert.
Note that there are two desserts. If the holiday calls for sweetness, there is nothing sweeter than multiple desserts.
How have you been preparing for Rosh Hashanah? What sweetness are you serving?
There’s a great high holy days cooking class coming up at the St. Paul JCC. I can’t recommend the chef/instructor enough (though I will admit to sharing some DNA among other things with him).