Happy New Year all whether you are Jewish or not, I’m wishing you all a sweet year to come. The week between the New Year and Yom Kippur is one full of celebration and reflection and of course food. It’s a time when we gather with our families and usher in the year with traditional foods many of which are sweet to usher in a sweet New Year; apples and honey, sweet rather than savory challah, honey cake. We anxiously eat a big feast before Kol Nidre, so that we fill our bellies in anticipation of the fast to come. We wish each other an easy fast and spend the next 24 hours in prayer, repentance and introspection. Sundown comes, the shofar blows and we all join our families for the large break-fast celebration usually filled with “appetizing” and spreads — lox, bagels, kugel, smoked fish salads and so much more.
Notice, food is a common thread, it is again the unifying force that brings us together in celebration. As someone whose parents are no longer here, I am very lucky to have an extended family of friends with whom I spend the holidays. I look back at the amazing meals mom made, having learned many of the recipes from my dad’s mom. My grandmother only knew as she would call it “Jewish food” and my mom learned from her how to make many of these wonderful traditional foods. I am lucky to have found a treasure trove of recipes written on index cards from my mom. Grandma never wrote down a recipe, she said “eh, who does that? I put a little of this and a little of that, cook it for as long as it needs to cook and then it’s done.” Her foods were never what you could call healthy, in fact salad she would say is for the animals; salad for was eaten only when you had appetizing foods and then it was just a slab of iceberg and if you were lucky it had a blob of russian dressing. Chicken fat or peanut oil were the cooking fats of choice and vegetables were never really the color they came from in the wild but rather all took on a grey hue since they were either from a can or just cooked until there wasn’t a nutritional drop left. Yet somehow it all tasted comforting and delicious and we never worried about calories or cholesterol!
For the New Year, dad, who learned from Grandma, would make the most decadent chopped liver. All the ingredients had to be warm he would say, that’s the key. The livers, only chicken, with onions fried in schmaltz, (yes dad would render his own) warm hard boiled eggs, all chopped by hand in a wooden bowl and seasoned to perfection. Here is the recipe
Of course there was chicken soup with matzoh balls, and I’m not sure who made it better, grandma, mom or now me. Grandma’s secret she would say was adding a marrow bone to give it the extra body — and of course chicken feet for that super rich taste. She’d search high and low for kosher chicken feet and towards the end of her years of cooking she gave up using them since it was almost impossible to find. Matzoh balls, light but still with body would sit in the middle of the most wonderful rich chicken soup adorned with carrots and “bissel” of dill and egg noodles. Mom carried on the tradition for me after Grandma and Dad were gone. Her soup was just as yummy and made with care. Her’s was a bit more fancy, very clear broth with beautifully cut carrots, added after the soup was done so they would still be crisp and fresh, and the lightest matzoh balls floating in the middle surrounded by egg noodles. I decided that I would treat myself and make my own batch to celebrate the New Year during the week. Here’s a picture. I can’t tell you the recipe because I cook just like Grandma, a bit of this, a bit of that, done like this and done when it’s done.
Grandma would always finish the dinner with her honey cake. She we all now admit, wasn’t the greatest baker, but her honey cake was always delicious. Her cookies, well that’s a tooth cracking story for another time, but honey cake was definitely worth eating. So tonight I thought I’d take a crack at making one since I have a friend staying here through the holiday. Friends since high school, reconnected over the past few years, and I can’t imagine not having this amazing lady in my life. So I baked us a honey cake so that we could celebrate the coming New Year with a delicious sweet as my grandmother and mother would have done. I put my own touches on it, it’s a bit fancier and boozier than Grandma would have made — for those who know me, bourbon is my thing so it’s laced with bourbon to give my touch. And well I guess this counts as the “drink” portion of this blog, lol.
Food unites us, we celebrate the good, the bad, with family, with friends over a meal. Food is nourishment for the body and the soul. I wish you all a happy, healthy and sweet New Year!