Shana Tova!! Happy New Year! Well, happy Jewish New Year.
A time to reflect, celebrate and wish one another well. Summer passed by in a nomadic blur leaving little time to write. The beginning of September rushed through in a whirlwind of checkered backpacks and multi coloured labels affixed to the clothing of my three children.
Yes. It is official. I am now the proud owner of six free hours, five days a week! Until one of said kids takes ill and then my time vanishes in a puff of smoke replaced by mommy cuddles, thermometers and humidifiers. But I digress.
Another year. Another celebration.
Being part of an interfaith marriage, we proudly embrace and celebrate the plethora of Judea-Christian traditions. People enjoy coming to our house between mid-September until the end of December, as we always seem to have a holiday going on. It may be apples and honey one week followed closely by gourds decorating the house and turkey cooking in the oven. Halloween follows close behind until we sprint towards Hanukah and Christmas with eyes closed praying we did enough, ate somewhat healthy and made more memorable moments with our darlings.
This year, for the first time in our twelve plus year marriage, I am responsible for the entire menu and cooking for Rosh Hashanah dinner. (Thank goodness it isn’t Passover!) When I first agreed to take it on, I thought, Pshaw! Some fish. Some chicken. Some honey cake. How hard can it be?
Well, perhaps hard is not the correct word. It is always hard the first time you do something new. But with it comes a rich learning experience that I chose to undertake.
Twas the night before Rosh Hashanah and all through the house, sweet smells were like manna so even a mouse, would come out of its corner to partake in the crumbs, leftover from mom’s attempt to bake honey cake for our tums.
I churned. I measured. I dropped flour all over the countertop. But, the night before Rosh Hashanah, the traditional honey cake was placed into a pre-heated oven. Was it well-organized meal planning that drove me to make the honey cake the night before? Of course not! I had to be sure it was edible so I had time to go try and find honey cake in our suburban west end neighborhood well removed from traditional Jewish bakeries of the Toronto area.
As the cake baked, the tantalizing smells of cloves, cinnamon and honey wafted through the house as I researched the rest of our dinner menu.
Honey glazed chicken thighs.
Fish (With head attached. As I forget every year, a whole fish is presented at the table to represent the Rosh (Hebrew for head). Thank goodness Mr. L reminded me a couple of days ago.)
Potatoes and carrots in a glazed honey sauce
Apples and honey
Chocolate glaze for honey cake
Not too much but enough variety for our family of five with all traditional elements accounted for.
My to-do list grew longer and longer as I tried to figure out my prep time and cooking time to ensure each dish was not sitting too long outside the oven.
The timer for the prized cake went off somewhere before midnight and not to brag, but even I was impressed with how nice it looked. I swatted Mr. L’s hand away but his excellent basketball moves enabled him to catch a few crumbs. The impressed look on his face warmed this newbie baker’s heart.
The day of Rosh Hashanah arrived and in a tizzy I realized I had offered to volunteer at my girls’ school that morning. Making a quick grocery list with a cup of coffee in one hand and shooing three kids to their respective bus stops with my feet (as I didn’t have a hand free) I wrote down all elements of my menu not yet purchased.
My main concern. Where to get a whole fish? Some grocery stores carry them and some do not. Although we eat fish in our house on a rotating basis once a week, I am quite content with our fish guy at our regular supermarket that gives me the little extra big salmon fillet because he knows my kids eat a lot. I did not think ahead to ask them to ensure to have whole fish, with head attached ready for me.
Raking my brain, a visual image hit me of another local grocery store, visited once in awhile and conveniently near the school. The image of fish on ice. Fish eyes staring at me as the kids ogled the live fish tank. Live fish tank meant whole fish for sale.
After checking in books and trying to maintain order of a class full of grade one kids at the school library, I drove to the grocery store forgoing the cart stomping right to the fish department. Passing the bakery on the way, I affirmed what I suspected. Yes, they had fresh Challah. But if there were no fish, there would be no shopping for me at this store.
Walking up to the counter my shoulders sagged in relief. There, behind the smudged glass laying on a blanket of ice staring at me in all their dead eyed glory were numerous types of whole fish. Snappers. Sea bream, Flounder. Mazal Tov!
Quick turn of the heel and I briskly strode to get the cart. I was now committed.
Challah please. Check.
Two snappers please. Wait. You have to what? Clean them up for me? They’re not clean already? Okay. Snip, gut and wash. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do that! The fish, named Charley and Sam, were mine. Check.
Chicken. Check. Apples Check. Honey. Check.
Down my list I went throwing in a few extra items here or there until my shopping was complete in less than a half hour. Record time.
Back home I carefully paced the remainder of the day between cooking and other errands until it was time to pick up the kids from school. I wasn’t making bad time. But it was with much relief when Mr. L walked through the door before 4:00 pm (unheard of most days) to relieve me of kid duty so I could focus on the food.
As each dish was ready, I realized I was kind of enjoying myself. I was learning to cook new things. The house smelled divine and I was helping our family celebrate an important Jewish holiday.
There are those times in your life when in one moment you are proud of something you accomplished. It may not be a huge thing or perhaps it is. For me, I had a moment like that last night as I presented the Rosh Hashanah feast to my family. I know Mr. L appreciated the effort, the kids ate almost everything, (Well we couldn’t convince them on the fish with the heads on but I don’t blame them.) and we had them tucked into bed just as tired eyes were rubbed and yawns imminent.
We may not have the most observantly Jewish Rosh Hashanah dinner, but it worked for our family and all the components were there. As a mom of three children and half of an interfaith partnership some people ask,
“Aren’t you concerned the kids will be confused?”
My answer to them, look at what they gain. They gain a rich, diverse experience that will enable them to think in on a more global scale. Having exposure to both our familial religions will free them from the binds of archaic practices enabling them to intelligently celebrate whatever holidays they identify with, in whatever way they deem fit. My hope is that they will empathize with people from whatever culture or religion they are. Tolerance, acceptance and compromise are blessed traits to possess. So is the ability to see the world in a bigger picture than beyond your own cultural schema. So, if I need to buy a fish head or two and learn how to cook a Rosh Hashanah meal to enrich my children’s understanding of the world they will inherit, than I will happily comply. (And enjoy eating a kick-ass honey cake. Recipe below.)
Regardless of how you celebrate this holiday, I think we will all be blessed with a sweet, successful year ahead.
DEFINITIVE MOIST AND MAJESTIC HONEY CAKE *Want to take this opportunity to mention I found this recipe on a great website called, www.interfaithfamily.com in an article by Linda Morel
By Marcy Goldman (www.betterbaking.com)
“Like most honey cakes, this can be made days ahead.”
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup warm coffee or strong tea or Coca-Cola
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup rye or whiskey (or substitute orange juice or coffee)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
This cake is best baked in a nine-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in one nine- or 10-inch tube or Bundt cake pan, a nine-by-13-inch sheet cake, or two five-inch loaf pans.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a piece of parchment on top.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Make a well in the center. Add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee, tea, or cola, orange juice and rye or whiskey.
Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.
Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together. (This will ensure that cakes bake properly.)
Bake until cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, 60-80 minutes; loaf pans, about 45-55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes.
Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.