You all know what I mean. At this time of the year, despite everything else that’s going on in our lives, the politics, the personal stuff, the cooling weather, our wallets are open, credit cards ready, as we prepare for the annual event we Jews call the holidays.
I just made my first pass at the supermarket. Now I’m in New Jersey so the markets are not completely crazy as they will be in my Herzliya market. Nonetheless, they’re pretty busy here as well.
The pre-shopping menu planning has been discussed. One daughter does the hosting and much of the cooking, including the outstanding batch of homemade challot, which would really suffice and satisfy if there were nothing else. Especially dipped in honey. Who needs more? We do!
Another daughter does the dairy lunch stuff and food for the one vegetarian who will attend, our granddaughter, her daughter. These days, unlike when my mother was the chief cook, every family and every guest list has a vegan, a fish eating vegetarian, a dairy eating vegetarian, a lactose free, a soy free, a nut free, a gluten free, and special meals for all sorts of allergies. Our own fish eating vegetarians include one grandson in New Jersey who will be with his nuclear family, and another, our grandson the chayal. Not surprisingly, Tzahal does accomodate for all varieties of eating preferences. All of this, of course, complicates the menu planning in ways unknown in our tradition.
I’ve got my assignments. Should I feel guilty that I’ve volunteered to make chopped liver? Honestly, I don’t feel guilty at all. My father ate chopped liver at least once a week and he was healthy until age 97. He never had his cholesterol checked so, if the liver caused it to be elevated, he just ate it in blissful ignorance. And he ate it after always sampling the gribenyas that were the superb leftovers from the rendering of the schmaltz that, in our house, was not reserved for chagim. Schmaltz and gribenyas were the most obvious, most fragrant, or flagrant, sign of it being Friday morning. My mother would never make chopped liver with vegetable oil. It just had to be with chicken fat which we call schmaltz. Every single Friday, at the same time as she made the chicken soup, she cut off the fatty chicken chunks, not for health,but in order to fry it up producing the delicacy which makes me yearn for it right now. It also makes me yearn for my mother who imbued all of her cooking with great talent and deep love. Soon, as we do every year, we will visit her and my father where they rest in the Herzliya Cemetery.
Back to the menu. I will also make gefilte fish. But, even my mother never had the fish swimming live in the bathtub. She would go to the fish monger and have him grind up just the right combination of carp, pike and whitefish. Then she would lovingly create the perfect oval shaped dumplings, floating in a delicate broth flavored with carrots and onions. Her Litvak style made a somewhat peppery, not sweet, rendition of the classic. Doused in chren it was simply delicious, especially when the gel formed. Challah dipped in gel was like manna. I’m building up quite an appetite as I write this.
My own gefilte fish will be just as tasty but lots easier to prepare. No. I definitely will not open a jar whose contents do not contain real gefilte fish. That ersatz stuff is just not good enough, especially for the chagim. But I will buy the ready-made loaves that have to be cooked with vegetables and flavorings. And, I confess, I will add sugar. Somewhere I must have a bit of Galitzianer in my genes. I like my gefilte fish to be sweet. Those loaves, by the way, are very rare to find in Israel, which is just a pity. They’re so good!
My usual main course assignment is meatballs. I can’t replicate my mother’s meatballs. Every year I try. I fiddle with the ingredients but it’s never right. I can taste them in my mind but I can’t figure out what I’m missing so I just create my own and hope for the best. Not as good as my mother’s but good enough I suppose.
Of course we will have way too much to eat. Too many leftovers. But we’ll worry that we won’t have enough. That’s the Jewish way. I promise we will have enough but, just in case, I’ll make a few kugels, some salads, a couple of cakes, potatoes, vegetables……….
Our family gatherings have changed throughout the years. Re: The grandchildren: We have a six year old and a four year old now. Thank God. They’re beautiful girls and they will be with us But we also have some in college, in far off places, who won’t be. I know they will miss us. But not as much as we will miss them. We also have a married grandson who will celebrate with his beautiful wife’s beautiful family.
And, of course, we will yearn for those like my parents, my husband’s parents, other inlaws, who will forever be missing……..and missed. May they rest in peace.
And may we all know peace and health in the coming year. Your family. Our family. Am Yisrael. America. Medinat Yisrael. All of us! L’shana tova!