Friday, September 6, 2013

Stuff Your Punim

A few months ago during Passover, I wrote about the food we consume during those eight crazy days... I called it Eight Crazy Days (go figure!). Please feel free to go back and read it if you missed it and want to learn about or just laugh about Passover food.

Of course there is much more to Jewish food than unleavened bread and coconut based desserts. It's not all worth complaining about. There is much to celebrate. This holiday week is meant for reflection, and what better to reflect on than all the foods I have been enjoying through many years of high holy days. And since the holidays are early this year, (they are either early OR late but strangely never "on time") it gave me something to write about this week.

Challah! (That's pronounced "Hollah!" in a somewhat hip-hop style sing-songy voice)

Friday nights are a time to gather the family, reflect on the week, light the candles, say a prayer over the challah and enjoy the world's best bread. I mean, pound for pound, it is hard to top a good challah. And by top, I mean beat... it is actually quite easy to top a challah: Temptee whipped cream cheese and a bit of raspberry jelly does the trick. 

Challah dominates the French toast world (brioche my a$$!) for good reason, and if you haven't ordered a grilled cheese on challah from your local diner, I suggest you run right now and do it. You can thank me later. A testament to the strength of challah in the bread category is the fact that it is the only bread I can mindlessly eat in its entirety just by sitting and ripping massive chunks off, one by one, until I have a challah brick in my stomach that doesn't actually feel as bad as it sounds. So yes, our staple bread is unbeatable. That is why we roll it out for every special occasion: Baby Naming, Bar/Bat Mitzah, Wedding, Bris... sure, let's get a crowd together and say a prayer over the challah to kick the party off. Great call peeps.

But the ever present challah is only a part of the Jewish food big picture here. 

Most of the our (Ashkenazi) food is sweet... and I'm talking about the main dishes, not just desserts. I never realized that was weird until we started having non-family members over for the holidays. Vegetables are not our priority unless they are potted with prunes and a sub-par cut of beef. Brisket in tzimmes makes appearances at several of our holidays and I never remember which one until that delicious pot of tender meat and sweet potatoes is before me. Mmmmmm, sweet meat. Delicious, even if it is a bit controversial.

Lots of "earth" tones on the plate, very little greenery

At the start of the Jewish new year we get the brisket, which is why it is not only fresh in my mind, but still possibly in my system. Kugel is a noodle based casserole dish, and for Rosh Hashanah we get two: a savory onion one and a lokshen one (slightly sweet, often with raisins or other fruit). Both are delicious, but really just a dress rehearsal for what I deem the *main event kick-ass kugel* (patent pending) of Yom Kippur.

Ah, Yom Kippur: one day of fasting to rid yourself of all your sins from the past year. Not a bad deal, I will tell you. You always know you've been particularly naughty if the final 4:00 - 6:00 pm window is slightly more painful than the year before. But then in absolution we find halvah, bagels, cream cheese, smoked fishes and if you're very very lucky, a sweet kugel. This kick-ass kugel is truly the main event for me, being the best and worst thing you can do to a nearly starving body. It's a noodle based pudding laced with cheese, butter, another cheese, sugar, possibly another cheese and crunched up sweetened cornflakes on top. Whatever it is, it is worth the sin of sitting and dreaming about it all afternoon when you are supposed to be repenting. I am already dreaming about it and my fast is still a week away. Oy.

Sukkot is the holiday celebrating the harvest and calls for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. For holidays like that, I recommend a nice dose of chopped liver. Chopped liver is similar to pate, minus any fanciness one might associate with pate (sh!t, I can't get the accent over the e, so if any of you are thinking I am saying pate, like rhymes with state and not pate, like rhymes with satay, might I ask what the hell you think pate, like rhymes with state is?? ya weirdo). 

Anyway, back to the organ meat... there is nothing fancy about chopped liver. It's chicken livers (because we don't waste food), nearly burnt onions, mixed with schmaltz (that's grease and fat to those of you who don't speak yiddish). It is at once horrifically unhealthy and shockingly tasty, particularly on kichle (pronunciation has one of those throat scratching "ch" sounds, as our best yiddish words do) or a garlic tam-tam cracker... mmmmm. That should get you through to the next holiday with some signature food, Hanukkah. But I'll get to that when Chanukah rolls around... whenever that is this year. Those damn dates!

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