The Ninth Night of Hanukkah begins, appropriately enough, on the first night of the holiday…. Dad has brought pizza for dinner and Max and Rachel and their parents eat it among unopened and partially opened boxes in their new apartment. (image from book)
Change is a constant in our lives and things don’t always go as planned. Learning how to deal with the unexpected and to be able to ask for help and to be appreciative of it are all valuable lessons. And when such concepts can be literally illustrated and told in story form, they tend to stick better.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Shahar Kober, is about home and helping, and takes its inspiration from the ninth candle on the chanukiyah, the shamash (Hebrew) or shammes (Yiddish), the helper candle. At the darkest time of the year, family, friends and community are the main lights that get us through and, especially amid the pandemic, a reminder of the love and support we have around us is particularly important.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah begins, appropriately enough, on the first night of the holiday. But something is different. Dad has brought pizza for dinner and Max and Rachel and their parents eat it among unopened and partially opened boxes in their new apartment. Their cat looks on. “No menorah? No latkes?” the kids wonder. Mom assures them that, tomorrow, they’ll find the Chanukah supplies amid all their things.
On the second night, Max and Rachel make a menorah with some wood, nuts and bolts, paint and glue. Not only is their real menorah still missing but the candles can’t be found either, so the kids – with Mom’s permission – go off to borrow some candles from a neighbour, and Mrs. Mendez in 2C happily obliges.
Each night, the family makes do with the help of a different neighbour. Each night is nice, “but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”
Spoiler alert … eventually, the box with the family’s holiday stuff arrives – but too late. The delivery comes on Day 9. But Max and Rachel are not so easily deterred. They concoct a plan to celebrate the holiday and their neighbours. “And, best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”
Perl’s text has a rhythm. The repetition each night of how “it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” accents how hard it is to accept new situations. Yet the fact that the family makes each night special, shows that, despite what we might be thinking or feeling, we can act in ways that still celebrate life and all for which we are grateful.
The illustrations by Kober are colourful, with a retro feel, and have a lot of energy. Creative use of white space helps direct the action. And the two-page spreads have an expansive feel to them, like the reader is right there in the apartment with Max, Rachel and their family and new friends.
The book ends with a nice note from Perl about Chanukah and her family’s tradition, followed by a list of nine ideas of how to make your own “Shamash Night.”
A PJ Library book, which is also available from most any bookseller, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah lights all the right candles and would make a great holiday gift.
It was really a hot summer, and I was trying to think of creative ways to make and serve food. I took the idea of making savoury items in my muffin tins from the online Food & Wine magazine, koshering some of the recipes they have posted. These hand-size meals should delight children and adults alike, though it may take more than one portion to sate the older crowd.
The word muffin is first found in print in 1703, possibly from the German word muffen, meaning small cake. It may also have originated in a British magazine in 1851. In 10th- or 11th-century Wales, however, there existed an English muffin made with yeast and cooked on a griddle. American-style muffins in individual molds are from the 18th century. It is uncertain which came first, the cupcake cups or muffin pans. Regardless, here are some recipes to try out.
3/4 cup cornmeal 1/4 cup flour salt to taste 1/4 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda 1 egg 3/4 cup non-dairy creamer or pareve milk *** 1 tbsp olive oil 1/2 chopped onion or green onions or shallot 1 finely chopped clove garlic 1/2 carrot cut into chunks salt and pepper to taste 1 1/2 tsp flour 3/8 cup chicken soup 1/4 cup shredded cooked chicken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease six muffin tins.
Stir together in a bowl cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Whisk in egg and liquid. Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds full with batter.
Heat oil in a frying pan and stir in onion, garlic, carrots, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, eight to 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook two minutes.
Add soup and bring to a boil then add chicken.
Place one to two tablespoons filling on top of each batter-filled muffin tin. Bake for 25 minutes or until muffins are golden around the edges.
“HOGS” IN A BLANKET
This is a kosher adaptation of a recipe by Grace Parisi, who grew up in a family of cooks and is a cookbook author who headed several test kitchens. The original recipe can be found at foodandwine.com/recipes/hogs-in-blanket. Both recipes make 18 hors d’oeuvres.
3 1/3 ounces pareve puff pastry cut into 2 5-inch squares 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water 2 3-ounce beef hot dogs or sausages 1/8 cup chutney 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Arrange puff pastry squares on a work surface and brush with egg wash.
Place sausages or hot dogs on bottom edges and roll up pastry, pressing edges to seal. Freeze for 10 minutes or until firm.
Cut logs into half-inch slices and place cut side up in mini-muffin pans. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and sizzling. Cool on a paper towel-lined rack.
Pulse chutney and mustard in food processor until chutney is chopped. Spoon a dollop on each slice and serve.
MUFFIN CUP MACARONI AND CHEESE
This recipe is adapted from one by Kate Winslow, former Gourmet magazine editor, writer, recipe developer and cookbook author. The original recipe can be found at foodandwine.com/recipes/muffin-cup-macaroni-and-cheese. The kosher and original versions are both for 12 mini-muffins.
2 tbsp unsalted butter or margarine 1 tbsp flour 1 cup milk 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese salt and pepper to taste 4 ounces macaroni 2 1/2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a mini-muffin pan.
In a saucepan, heat one tablespoon butter or margarine. Add flour and stir for one minute. Add milk and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until thick.
Add cheese and stir until it is melted and the sauce is smooth.
Cook pasta in boiling, salted water. Drain and add to cheese sauce. Spoon into 12 muffin cups.
Melt remaining one tablespoon of butter or margarine. Stir in breadcrumbs and cook three to five minutes. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese muffins.
Bake for 15 minutes. Let macaroni cool five to 10 minutes before removing from the pan, so the muffins will hold together.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
Rosh Hashanah greeting cards (above and below) from the author’s family’s collection. The cards are almost 100 years old. The translation of the one in which people are walking is “Into the synagogue.” It is signed by Chaim Goldberg, a well-known artist who also illustrated many children’s books. The party postcard, also done by Goldberg, is a printed rhyme, which translates as, “Boy, girl! Dear, refined! Who is like you? Happy letters, dear writings, I have for you!”
The Jewish calendar is an amazing conceptualization of time that has evolved (what else?) over time.
In his blog on the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot website, Ushi Derman relates that, originally, the Jewish calendar was a solar calendar. But it was not just a solar calendar, it was a holy solar calendar, delivered by angels to Enoch. (See the Book of Enoch, the section dealing with astronomy, called “The Book of Heavenly Luminaries.”) Temple priests had to follow a rigorous schedule – time itself was judged to be sacred. Thus, the Temple in Jerusalem was regarded as both the house of G-d and the dwelling of time.
With the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, the priests lost their power. They were no longer the mediators between G-d and the people. Authority switched to the scholars (our sages) of the Mishnah (edited record of the Oral Torah), Talmud and Tosefta (similar to the Mishnah, but providing more details about the reasons for or application of the laws).
In a bold move, the scholars declared that G-d had handed religious authority to humans. “Each month, envoys were sent to watch the new moon and to determine the beginning of the month. Thus, the ownership of time was expropriated from G-d and delivered to man – and that is why the Hebrew calendar has survived for so many centuries,” writes Derman in the 2018 blog “Rosh Hashanah: The Politics and Theology Behind Jewish Time.”
Here is a lovely story from The Book of Legends, edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, illustrating the above change. A king had a clock. “When his son reached puberty, he said to him: My son, until now, the clock has been in my keeping. From now on, I turn it over to you. So, too, the Holy One used to hallow new moons and intercalate years. But, when Israel rose, He said to them, until now, the reckoning of new moons and of New Year’s Day has been in My keeping. From now on, they are turned over to you.”
Perhaps oddly, the Mishnah mentions more than one new year. In fact, it points out four such dates on the Jewish calendar:
The first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals;
The first of Elul is the new year for tithing of animals (some say the first of Tishrei);
The first of Tishrei is the new year for years, sabbaticals and Jubilee, for planting and vegetables;
The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the House of Shammai, while the House of Hillel (which we adhere to today) says the 15th of Shevat, or Tu b’Shevat.
With its thrice daily prayers, the synagogue came to replace the Temple. Excluding Yom Kippur, synagogue attendance is higher on Rosh Hashanah than any other time of year. Rosh Hashanah prayers are compiled in a special prayer book, or Machzor.
Amid COVID-19, the following words about Rosh Hashanah have heightened meaning: “The celebration of the New Year involves a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, there is a sense of gratitude at having lived to this time. On the other hand, the beginning of a new year raises anxiety. What will my fate be this year? Will I live out the year? Will I be healthy? Will I spend my time wisely, or will it be filled in a way that does not truly bring happiness?” (See the Rabbinical Assembly’s Machzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, published almost a decade ago.)
Sounding the shofar is one of the special additions to Rosh Hashanah services. According to Norman Bloom – in a 1978 article on Rosh Hashanah prayers in Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought – the timing of the shofar blowing weighed in the physical safety and comfort of the congregation. Hard as it may be to comprehend today, scholars considered potential attacks from both local enemies of the Jews and from Satan himself. They also considered the comfort of the infirm, who might not be able to stay through a long service.
Rosh Hashanah has other curious customs. For example, there is a tradition of having either a fish head or, among some Sephardim, a lamb’s head as part of the Rosh Hashanah meal. This is meant to symbolize that, in the year to come, we should be at the rosh or head (on top), rather than at the tail (at the bottom). Vegetarians and vegans substitute a head of lettuce.
Both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews have Rosh Hashanah seder traditions. The symbolic foods include beets, leeks, pomegranates, pumpkins and beans. As Rahel Musleah has pointed out, each food suggests a good wish for the coming year. Thus, before eating each one, people recite a special blessing. Humour is at play, too, as some of the blessings are puns on the food’s Hebrew or Aramaic name. (Read Musleah’s article “A Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder” at myjewishlearning.com/article/a-sephardic-rosh-hashanah-seder.) Of course, we cannot neglect to mention that the festive table also includes apples dipped in honey, for a sweet new year, and a round challah, symbolizing both the cycle of life and G-d’s kingship.
Another Rosh Hashanah custom is Tashlich. This ceremony involves going to a body of water to symbolically cast off one’s sins. Breadcrumbs are often used, as are leaves, but, seeing that COVID-19 will be a part of this year’s holiday, here is another suggestion. Originally, this activity was used with youth groups of the Reform movement – participants wrote out their sins and then the papers on which they were written were put through a paper shredder. A dramatic gesture, suited to our current need for social distancing.
My city, Jerusalem, is a land-bound city without a sea or lake in its immediate vicinity. So, what do residents of the capital do? Those who wish to practise Tashlich go to one of the following four sites. Two of the four places are near the Supreme Court: the Jerusalem Rose Garden and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Also in the same general area is the Botanic Garden in the Nayot neighbourhood and, in the Old City, one can go to the Shiloah Springs in City of David.
Wishing all readers a year of blessings and not of curses.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
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• Hebrew has a number of expressions using the word rosh. Here are just a handful of examples: rosh hamemshala (prime minister); rosh kroov, literally cabbage head, or a negative reference to someone who is not very bright; rosh katan, someone who is small-minded; l’kabel barosh, to be defeated; and rosh tov, or good vibes.
• Anyone interested in learning more about the solar calendar should read Prof. Rachel Elior’s article, “Enoch Son of Jared and the Solar Calendar of the Priesthood in Qumran,” which can be found in a Google search.
One of the many names of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is Yom Harat Olam, the birthday of the world. It is the day on which our tradition says the world was created.
Before we can begin to celebrate this “birthday,” however, something is required of us. During the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, we prepare ourselves spiritually for forgiveness and, in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are meant to ask forgiveness of anyone we may have hurt during the year, even unintentionally. We are required to atone for wrongs between people, in contrast to the sins that arise between us and G-d. We cannot make a spiritual “return,” if we remain shackled with unresolved guilt and resentments.
More Jews attend synagogue on these two holidays than at any other time. Many of the prayers praise the mighty and wondrous works of the Creator, in keeping with the theme of “the birthday of the world.” We are to recognize that life itself is a Divine gift and has a sacred purpose.
According to our tradition, everything we do is recorded in the Book of Life. No deed, word, thought, good or evil, goes unrecorded. The record is supposedly kept in heaven. One belief accords this job to Elijah the prophet, keeper of the records of humanity’s deeds. On Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is examined, our acts in the preceding year weighed and judged. On this basis, it is decided “who shall live and who shall die … who shall be brought low and who shall be exalted.” For this reason, we wish for one another, “May you be inscribed for a good year.” We are taught that the only way to avert a severe decree is by “penitence, prayer and charity.”
According to Rabbi Kruspedai, in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah – one for the wholly righteous, one for the wholly wicked and one for most of us, those in between. The wholly righteous are inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, the wicked in the Book of Death and the rest of us are held suspended until Yom Kippur, when we are judged worthy or unworthy. The zodiacal symbol for the Hebrew month of Tishrei is, fittingly, a balance – the scales of justice.
Many people accompany all meals at this time with apples and honey. In addition to its other symbolism, the apple represents the Shechinah (Divine Presence), which kabbalists refer to as an apple orchard.
With the emphasis on creation at this time, it is customary to eat an apple dipped in honey on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after the blessing on the wine and bread, and say: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the tree.” This is followed by: “May it be Your will, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, to renew unto us a good and sweet year.”
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a new fruit – one we have not yet tasted this season – and we recite a blessing over it.
How do we know on what day of the year the world was created? We know that the first word of the Torah is Bereishit, in the beginning. When the letters are changed around, they read: aleph b’Tishri, the first of Tishrei, when G-d began to create the heaven and the earth.
May we all be inscribed for a good year.
Dvora Waysmanis a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.
Reboot’s annual 10Q annual reflection project, which sends participants a question a day for 10 days will return for the 13th year this month. But, with the challenges, grief and fear of COVID-19 weighing heavily on the world, this year’s 10Q will include additional questions to offer a space for exploring and preserving feelings and experiences of this unique time in a digital time capsule.
Each year, for 10 days, the 10Q project from the nonprofit Reboot captures daily insights, experiences and beliefs from tens of thousands of people, many of whom have been participating since 10Q’s founding in 2008 and have amassed a personal archive.
“It has been found again and again that, when difficult circumstances hit, the simple experience of taking a pen and paper and allowing our inner voice to speak through our pens is in itself a healing and regenerative act,” said Nicola Behrman, 10Q co-founder (in partnership with writer Ben Greenman and educator Amelia Klein). “We know from 13 years of answers just how meaningful the 10Q experience is for so many, but, this year, when the foundation of everyday life has shifted so seismically and we are desperately attempting to find meaning in the madness, this simple act of reflection is both anchoring and essential.”
For 10 days, starting Sept. 18, and coinciding with the traditional period of reflection during the High Holidays, participants of all backgrounds will get the 10Q questions by email, leading them to their private digital portal, where the answers will be stored. The annual 10Q questions are not intrinsically religious and are focused on life, personal goals, plans for the future, relationships, our place in the world and more.
The answers are returned to participants the next year before the project starts again. The 10Q vault serves as a digital time capsule, and answers to the new questions will serve as a chronicle of experiences through COVID-19 that can also be shared by participants with future generations. For some people, this is a one-time experience; for others, 10Q has created an annual tradition of building a personal archive for future years and mapping personal growth.
Although the project is rooted in the Jewish idea of ethical wills and runs during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in the last decade, more than 70,000 people of all backgrounds and ages have turned to 10Q for a meaningful and modern spin on the centuries-old tradition of introspection, atonement and self-change during the High Holidays. The questions have scrolled on the jumbo screens at Times Square in New York City and on the Las Vegas Strip.
“It has never felt so important to pause and reflect on ourselves and the world around us,” said Reboot chief executive officer David Katznelson. “We are living in such a unique moment of human history, a moment that is worth turning to the individual to ask big questions about what we can learn to take us into the future.”
Like many of you, I approach the New Year and Yom Kippur with a heavy heart. Ashamnu. We have sinned. Much is not well, not as it should or can be. Our communities are filled with anger, fear, hatred, pain, and acrimony.
Our tradition placed a heavy burden on us. Atonement is only attainable when accompanied by a commitment to change one’s behaviour. The burden is doubly heavy, for we are not merely responsible for our individual failings, but for our societal ones. Ashamnu. We have sinned. Yom Kippur is not merely a day of prayer in search of Divine forgiveness, but a day of taking responsibility for the world that we have created.
There are so many places to start this process and, for those who don’t know where, the Jewish prayer book provides guidance. Ashamnu. Bagadnu. Gazalnu. Dibarnu dofi. We have sinned. We have betrayed. We have taken that which is not ours. We have spoken evil.
This year, I will begin with the sin of certainty. The certainty that I have the truth and others do not. The certainty that I am right and others wrong. The certainty that I am good and others bad. The certainty that I love my country and others do not.
“Our God and God of our ancestors, we are neither so insolent nor so obstinate as to claim in your presence that we are righteous, without sin; for we, like our ancestors who came before us, have sinned.” (Yom Kippur Machzor)
Inherent to every social structure is the reality of difference. Members, adherents, citizens, who join or are joined together by blood, race, gender, ideology, religion, culture or nationality, inevitably find themselves disagreeing over issues both minor and major. Differences are a permanent and inevitable reality of life. By themselves, they do not undermine social cohesion. What threatens unity is how we respond to the reality.
The three conceptual tools for reflecting on difference are pluralism, tolerance and deviance. When those who are different are classified as deviant, the possibility of a shared society with them comes to an end. It is here that the sin of certainty spreads its destructive poison. The hubris of certainty allows one to shun and shame those who do not share in the truth as you know it, and to move them to the margins of society, if not outside it. Armed with certainty, acts of blatant aggression are clothed with the garments of self-preservation and sanctioned as acts of group loyalty.
A certainty of a different form is played out in the category of pluralism. We are pluralistic toward those differences that we assume to be of equal value to our own positions – “These and these are the words of the living God.” With pluralism, we accommodate difference that we believe is equally authentic and that we can associate as being on par with our truth, our knowledge and our beliefs. These and these are the words of the living God, but not those and those. And the one who decides is us.
Why tolerate that which I believe to be wrong?
The danger that lies with the sin of certainty is that it attempts to create social life around the categories of pluralism and deviance alone. Difference to which I ascribe value is accommodated and welcomed as my friend. Difference that I do not, is rejected and ostracized as my enemy. I and my certainty are the ultimate arbiters of who is in and who is out, who is valued and who is not, who is to be cared for and who is not, who is to be respected and who vilified.
It is tolerance, the often-derided category, that is most absent in much of contemporary social discourse. One does not tolerate that which one values, but rather that which one thinks is wrong. Tolerance can only take root in those places where we are able to relinquish our claim to certainty. Why tolerate that which I believe to be wrong? Because I know it is possible that my belief may also be wrong. Because I believe that truth, knowledge and enlightenment will only grow when I expose my certainty to the critique of others; when I am open to learn from others’ truths, knowledge and experience.
Why tolerate that which I believe to be wrong? Because I and those like me do not have a monopoly over the “true” identity of our society. It is theirs just as much as it is ours. We are destined to live with those who believe and do that which we hold to be intolerable. In some cases, judgment of deviance is both called for and necessary and, without boundaries, our societies will dissolve and lose any purpose, meaning and identity.
Which difference do we tolerate, and which do we not, is the question. The sin of certainty both blinds us to this question and renders us incapable of such discernment. The price? The price is the dysfunctional harmful social discourse and behaviour dominating our lives today.
“Our God and God of our ancestors, we are neither so insolent nor so obstinate as to claim in Your presence we are certain.”
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartmanis president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of the 2016 book Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself. Articles by Hartman and other institute scholars can be found at shalomhartman.org.
Although beekeeping as an occupation is not mentioned in the Bible, bees are mentioned four times, honeycombs are referred to eight times and honey is referred to 26 times. Archeologists actually have discovered proof that there was beekeeping and honey 3,000 years ago in a site in northern Israel.
Among Ashkenazim, sweet desserts for Rosh Hashanah are customary, particularly lekach, or honey cake, and teiglach, a hard, doughy, honey and nut cookie. Some say the origin of the sweets comes from a passage in the book of Hosea mentioning “love cakes of raisins.” There is also a passage in II Samuel, which talks about the multitude of Israel, “to everyone a cake of bread and a cake made in a pan and a sweet cake.”
It was Ezra, the fifth-century BCE religious leader who was commissioned by the Persian king to direct Jewish affairs in Judea, and Nehemiah, a political leader and cup bearer of the king in the fifth century BCE, who told the returning exiles to eat and drink sweet things.
Honey cakes traditionally include honey, spices, coffee and brown sugar as major ingredients, but some contain cognac, brandy, orange or lemon peel and nuts. In Curaçao, for example, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, raisins, nuts or currants, lemon or orange peel is added. In Zimbabwe, Jews include allspice, cinnamon, cloves, raisins, chopped nuts, brandy and chopped candied fruit in their honey cake.
In That Hungarian’s in My Kitchen, Linda Radke includes a Hungarian recipe from her family, which includes the basic ingredients and orange juice. A cookbook of Russian recipes includes a Ukrainian honey cake, medivik, with the basic ingredients as well as cardamom, orange peel, raisins, walnuts and apricots.
In The Jewish Book of Food, Claudia Roden writes that honey cake was a favourite in Germany as far back as the Middle Ages, and that lebkuchen, honey gingerbread, was also mentioned as early as the 12th century.
According to John Cooper in Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food, references to honey cake were made in the 12th century by a French sage, Simcha of Vitry, author of the Machzor Vitry, and by German rabbi Eleazar Judah ben Kalonymos. Cooper writes that, on the new moon in the month of Nissan, boys at Jewish school were given honig lekach, honey cake: “Originally, the names of angels were inscribed on the honey cake and amulets were attached to them, but later this practice was discarded.” According to Cooper, the words lebkuchen and lekach probably came to be related to the German word for lick, lecke.
By the 16th century, lekach was known as a Rosh Hashanah sweet. It also became popular for other lifecycle celebrations, such as betrothals and weddings. Malvina W. Liebman writes in Jewish Cooking from Boston to Baghdad that Crypto-Jews in 16th-century Latin America ate honey cake at weddings, in memory of the honeycomb that an angel gave to Asenath when she married Joseph.
In The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, Evelyn Rose (z”l), a maven of Jewish cooking from England, wrote that the first cakes made with artificial raising agents were honey cake, and honey was the chosen sweetener because sugar was not widely available until the end of the 19th century. As an aside, she also recommends keeping a honey cake in a closed container for a week before serving it, so it will “mature.”
Among the Chassidim, it was customary for the rebbe to distribute lekach to his followers, and others would request a piece of honey cake from one another on Erev Yom Kippur. This transaction symbolized a substitute for any charity the person might choose to receive.
Gil Marks (z”l), in The World of Jewish Desserts, says fluuden, a layered yeast cake, was traditional for Rosh Hashanah among Franco-German Jews. Made with a cheese filling, it could be eaten after a meat meal, since they only waited one hour between meat and dairy. Strudel, from the German word for whirlpool, was also common for Rosh Hashanah among European Jews.
The most traditional cookie for Rosh Hashanah is teiglach, the dough pieces dropped into a hot honey syrup and simmered until brown then left to cool. It has been suggested that this Eastern European sweet was probably invented by some housewife who had dough left over and dropped the pieces into a boiling honey syrup.
Many Jews of Sephardi background make tishpishti for Rosh Hashanah. This cake with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans, has a hot syrup poured over it. The syrup can be made with sugar, water and liqueur, according to Rabbi Robert Sternberg in The Sephardic Kitchen. Sternberg also points to rodanchas as a popular Sephardi Rosh Hashanah sweet. These spiral-shaped pastries of phyllo dough contain a pumpkin or squash filling because these vegetables and their shape symbolize the cycle of life and the ascent of the soul into heaven.
Here are some honey cakes to try this year.
TISHPISHTI Jews who lived in Turkey after being expelled from Spain in 1492 adopted this dish, whose name means “quick and done.” Some say it was always served on Rosh Hashanah, but it was also popular for Passover because it has no flour.
2 cups ground almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts 1 cup cake meal 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cloves or allspice 6 separated eggs 1 cup sugar 2 tbsp orange juice 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 tbsp grated lemon or orange peel * * * 3/4 cup honey 1/2 cup sugar 2/3 cup water 1/4 cup lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a rectangular baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, combine nuts, cake meal, cinnamon and cloves or allspice.
In another bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar. Add to nut mixture along with orange juice, oil and lemon or orange peel.
Beat egg whites in another bowl until stiff. Fold into batter. Pour into cake pan and bake 45 minutes.
Place honey, sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, bring to a boil and cook for one minute. Let cool.
Cut cake into squares or diamonds. Drizzle syrup over cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.
MOM’S HONEY LOAF CAKE I don’t recall my mom baking this, but it was in my collection of recipes as being hers.
3 1/2 cups flour 1/4 tsp salt 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 1/8 tsp ground cloves 1/2 tsp ground ginger 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 4 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup vegetable oil * * * 2 cups honey 1/2 cup strong coffee 1/2 cup raisins 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two loaf pans or a rectangular baking pan.
Combine in a bowl flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.
Beat eggs and sugar in another bowl until fluffy. Add oil, honey and coffee.
Stir in flour mixture. Add raisins and nuts. Pour into pans. Bake for 1.5 hours.
Sybil Kaplanis a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
I’m here to boldly encourage you to try something entirely different at your Rosh Hashanah table this year. No, not a pony. A new food. Serve it, to non-vegetarians. And, if anybody asks what they’re eating, confidently tell them it’s a family secret. Don’t forget to mention that, if you tell them, you’ll have to kill them. That generally stops people in their nosy tracks. Let me be perfectly transparent: the food I’m about to suggest is on the meat spectrum. Alright, meat adjacent.
Isn’t it enough that everyone’s oohing and ahhing over the unparalleled tenderness of the dish? The specifics are strictly on a need-to-know basis. And no one needs to know. Except your butcher. OK, enough. It’s beef tongue. You heard correctly. I’m aware it’s not politically correct – after all, some farmer is clearly stifling free speech. Even if it only belongs to a cow. (And, technically, they can’t speak anyway. So moot point.)
Just so we’re clear, beef tongue is definitely not vegan. Or vegetarian-friendly. Not by a New York mile. I’m simply providing you with an alternative to screaming chicken, Coca-Cola brisket and mayo-slathered, onion soup-mix salmon.
I know that beef tongue screams old school (and Council cookbook). But so do I. And, if we’re going to be honest about it, people are still enthusiastically scarfing down ketchup-glazed meatloaf and baked salami filled with French’s mustard. They’re just not yelling it from the rooftops. So, loosen up and try thinking of beef tongue as a distant relative. Second cousin twice removed. Only maybe a little farther. But, still, meat mishpachah.
Before you pooh-pooh it, give it a shot. At least Google it and see what other Jews have to say about it. Most delis sell it pickled. But, believe me, pickled tongue has nothing on the sweet and sour version. Personally, I prefer to just boil it, cool it and eat it in a sandwich. With yellow mustard. On white bread. I can see the lynch mob in the distance.
The cooking part is where it gets tricky. If you’re a man, chances are you can’t relate to what I’m about to describe. You ladies, on the other hand, will understand perfectly. The cooking per se is easy (see recipe below). The next part is where it gets awkward. Once it’s cooked, you need to peel off the rubbery outside skin: think of taking off a pair of too-thick, too-tight pantyhose. That are wet. And it’s a hot, humid day. Not a particularly appealing visual, but it’s fairly accurate hyperbole.
Trust me when I tell you that your family/guests will be drooling all over themselves, demanding the recipe – if they can get past the sordid cooking details. Without further ado, here goes. And don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the recipe. You’re welcome.
SWEET AND SOUR BEEF TONGUE
1 beef tongue 2 onions, peeled and quartered 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved 2 bay leaves *** 15 oz can of tomato sauce 15 oz water 3/4 cup brown sugar juice of 1 lemon 1/2 cup sultana or dark raisins dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional) salt and pepper
Put the tongue and the rest of the ingredients into a deep pot with enough water to cover it well. Bring to a boil and simmer partly covered for about three-and-a-half hours, until tender when pierced with a fork. As it’s cooking, skim off the shmootz that forms on top. When tender, remove from the water. While it’s still warm, remove the skin (see detailed, gross description above), bones and stem. Slice and serve as is, or slice and serve with the sweet and sour sauce.
At the end of the day, a well-cooked beef tongue is all you need and nothing you don’t. But, I get that some of you are disgusted at the thought of eating tongue. So, for you finicky folks, I offer up another old school recipe – short ribs. This one is decades old and was handed down from my father’s cousin, Bertha Bloom. Nobody said it was diet food, so, if you’re not fussy about calories, go for it. Short ribs are notorious for being fatty, but therein lies most of their charm. Alright, all of their charm. You’ll diet tomorrow. And, hopefully, not die of clogged arteries tonight. But, have your cardiologist on speed dial, just in case.
BERT BLOOM’S BARBEQUE SHORT RIBS
Season two pounds of short ribs with salt, pepper and garlic salt then broil them until brown and half cooked. Transfer them to a covered Dutch oven (or similar deep roasting pan). For the sauce:
1 cup chili sauce 1/4 cup ketchup 4 tsp dry mustard 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 tbsp soy sauce small tin of crushed pineapple
Mix the ingredients together – including the juice from the pineapple tin, but not the pineapple – put in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour the sauce over the ribs and cook covered at 300°F to 325°F for one-and-a-half to two hours, basting occasionally. Add the crushed pineapple 20 minutes before it’s finished cooking and leave uncovered. Prepare to be awed by the yumminess factor.
For your guests who prefer healthy food, you may want to direct them elsewhere for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Or, if you’re a really nice and accommodating host, make them a marinated tofu mock-roast. Or a Tofurkey. But, for those of you indulging in the short ribs, now might be a good time to loosen your belt or unzip your skirt, and prepare to stuff your belly. It’s Rosh Hashanah. Celebrate with some new arterial stents! Tell Dr. Saul I sent you.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.
Services in the Schara Tzedeck auditorium, with social-distancing measures in place. (photo by Camille Wener)
In early March, Canadians were just beginning to take COVID-19 seriously. Then, in what seemed like an instant, the province shut down all places where people gather. Religious organizations were forced to close their doors – in some cases for the first time in more than a century – and rethink everything about how they engage with their congregants.
In a survey of rabbis and synagogue leaders across British Columbia after a summer of COVID, what emerges is not so much a story of hardship and difficulty but of resilience, creativity and a paring away of the superfluous to rediscover the most elemental things that we seek from spirituality and community.
The loss of life, the horrible illness and difficult recovery have directly affected thousands of British Columbia families, but we have fared better than many other jurisdictions. Even those not directly affected by the virus itself have had heartbreaking occasions, such as losing loved ones to other causes without family beside them, funerals and shivahs conducted online and, of course, the various burdens and isolation experienced by older people, those who live alone or others who are especially vulnerable.
As we approach High Holidays that are assured to be unlike any we have experienced before, there is an air of anxiety, but more evident is a flexibility and commitment to make the holidays as meaningful as possible. Although close coordination has taken place through RAV, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, every congregation is finding its own way and the holidays in most cases will occur along a spectrum of hybrid in-person and online services, most with multiple smaller, shorter programs. Services that routinely occur outdoors, such as Tashlich, will be joined in some cases with shofar-blowing and other services held out of doors. Despite all, reaction among rabbis is that community engagement and flexibility have made these months far better than could have been predicted in March.
“From day one, our motto was, we are not ramping down, we are ramping up,” said Rabbi Jonathan Infeld. His Conservative shul, Beth Israel, had not previously done programs or services online but, within 24 hours of the shutdown, all activities had moved online.
Zoom, an online meeting platform that almost no one had heard of before the pandemic, has proved a lifeline for individuals and communities, including almost all synagogues in the province. The platform’s interactivity allows individuals to participate in services, make virtual aliyot, engage in back-and-forth with teachers and guest speakers, and participate from home in numbers that rabbis say are routinely higher than in-person programs in “normal” times. “The social community of the synagogue’s remained intact,” said Infeld.
Most of Beth Israel’s congregants will experience the High Holidays from home, online. “It’s only the people who are leading the services and/or their families who will be in the building,” he said.
Provincial regulations permit a maximum of 50 people in any gathering, with social distancing enforced. For synagogues, that number varies based on the size of a sanctuary and the reality is that, to ensure two-metre separation, smaller synagogues will be able to accommodate far fewer than 50.
For the Orthodox Congregation Schara Tzedeck, however, online Shabbat and holiday services are not an option.
“We’ve had to think very creatively,” said Camille Wenner, executive director of the synagogue. “This was the first time in 110 years that our doors closed for davening,” she said.
People who had made minyan every week of their life suddenly couldn’t.
“That was really difficult,” said Wenner. “That’s why it was so important for us to mobilize a chesed committee to connect with everyone and make sure that everyone was OK. That’s how the idea of Shabbat in a Box developed and the idea of feeding people and making them feel that that ritual of Shabbat is still very much alive, you don’t have to be here to do it, we can still do it together.” That concept will be extended to Rosh Hashanah in a Box, which will go to more than 300 households.
Schara Tzedeck was the first Orthodox synagogue in Canada to reopen to limited in-person services, on June 1. “It was nerve-racking,” Wenner admitted. The usual single Shabbat service has been increased to two. Hand sanitizers and masks are required. Those who do not bring their own siddur are handed a newly cleaned one. Additional custodial staff are on hand to wipe down the entire sanctuary between services. An online registration program allows congregants to see how many of the 50 seats remain available.
For the holidays, services will be expanded to meet demand, she said. Rabbis and cantors who work in day schools and elsewhere in the community have volunteered to lead smaller services, which will occur in various places throughout the building and may even take place under a tent in the parking lot, if need be.
“The services will be condensed to about two hours instead of the regular five,” she said. “Right now, we’re looking at six or seven services back to back starting at 6:30 in the morning.”
The Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture normally doesn’t run programming through the summer. But, this year, the Sholem Aleichem Speakers Series has continued every Friday on Zoom and Exploring Jewish Writers, on Saturday mornings, also has continued through the summer, said Donna Becker, the centre’s executive director. “Both of them are better attended on Zoom than they were in person,” she said.
Peretz Centre holiday services will feature Stephen Aberle singing Kol Nidre, but the usual musical program, which sees the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir interspersed with the audience, is obviously out of the question.
This year’s High Holidays will be the first since the inception of the progressive congregation Ahavat Olam in 2004 that will not be held at the Peretz Centre. Said board member Alan Bayless: “We would prefer not to use computers for Shabbat or High Holiday services, but we believe that virtual services are necessary for our community this year given the danger of the coronavirus.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Wineberg of Chabad Lubavitch BC, said the 10 Chabad centres in the province are all adopting protocols appropriate for their congregants’ needs. He worries that, with daily infection reports often heading in the wrong direction, the province may re-impose stricter regulations by the time the holidays roll around. Either way, he suspects many or most people will be marking the holidays at home. “It’s the reality,” he said. “It’s a question of what works and what is acceptable and what isn’t.”
On the positive side, online learning has skyrocketed.
“The amount of study that’s going on by Zoom is absolutely unprecedented,” Wineberg said. “That’s the silver lining. I have a feeling that it will continue once this pandemic is over, God willing as soon as possible, I think people are going to continue learning that way. You have the convenience of sitting in your home and participating almost as if you are there – that’s the new reality.”
The Reform synagogue Temple Sholom had a running leap at livestreaming services, so some of the infrastructure was well in place before the pandemic. The difference now is the effort they are going to not just to allow people at home to observe, but to participate in the services. Classes, webinars and other programs have been expanded online. The Men’s Club and the Sisterhood have moved their programs onto Zoom. The accessibility means Temple Sholom programs are reaching new audiences, often far outside Vancouver.
The summer weather has allowed the synagogue to hold some events in parks and in the courtyard behind the shul. Still, Rabbi Carey Brown has no illusions that these High Holidays will be like any other. For one thing, only clergy will be in the sanctuary.
“It will be really different,” said Brown, who is the synagogue’s associate rabbi. “We are working really hard to put together High Holiday services and experiences that will help people feel the sense of the season, both the newness of the new year and the reflectiveness of the season.”
The Okanagan Jewish Community, which does not have a permanent rabbi, has depended on volunteers to deliver programs and services. The Kelowna-area centre has seen significant growth, and is running an 11-person conversion class and various adult education programs on Zoom. As great as all that is, Steven Finkelman, the centre’s president, thinks this might be a tough year financially for the group, a concern expressed by several interviewees. Revenue generated at the High Holidays and through in-person galas or other fundraising events in normal years is likely to suffer this year.
While online programming has proven hugely popular, there can be no denying that this experience has resulted in some missed opportunities. Rabbi Philip Gibbs of West Vancouver’s Conservative shul Har-El, has pangs of regret when he thinks back to the grand plans the synagogue had in January for a year of innovation and new initiatives.
“I was very excited about both the scale and the types and the variety of programming – more cooking events or culturally focused programs that really were going to give our community the chance to gather and engage in a really fun, exciting and meaningful way,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost that opportunity.”
The challenges and opportunities of the High Holidays will be met with one or more services on different days, he said. While he and his congregation are making the best of the situation, Gibbs laments the loss of in-person collective connection.
Similarly, Rabbi Hannah Dresner of Or Shalom, which is affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement, grieves the loss of some in-person connections. However, she feels that Zoom can provide an intimacy that a large group gathering might not. As well, not only are out-of-towners joining Or Shalom’s offerings, but the rabbi and others are surfing programs throughout the Jewish world and beyond.
“I just think it’s a time when the world is our oyster,” said Dresner. “Spiritually you can look for whatever kinds of workshops you want, so people are experimenting a lot more.”
Or Shalom will hold successive Tashlich services at False Creek, each accommodating congregants in limited numbers. For the well-being of ducks and other birds, Or Shalom members drop leaves rather than bread in the water.
“I love the creative challenge, but I can’t say it doesn’t keep me up at night,” Dresner said, laughing. “I hear a lot of rabbis say, I didn’t sign up for this. There’s nothing that we’re doing that I signed up for.”
This extraordinary time has forced and invited rabbis and others to reconsider everything. The changes have made her reflect on “what’s at the heart of the service, what do we really need, what’s extraneous, what makes it tedious? Because it cannot be tedious. It’s got to be tight, shorter and beautiful.”
Rabbi Levi Varnai of the Bayit in Richmond concurs that the crisis forced a reckoning. “If a synagogue is not doing services – and we don’t do services online – what do we do? It got us thinking to the real core of what a synagogue is really supposed to be about,” he said.
As an Orthodox shul, the Bayit cannot stream services on Shabbat or the holidays, but they have expanded classes throughout the week and held socially distanced events at Garry Point Park. Pre-Shabbat events help people prepare for the Sabbath and regular phone calls and visits by the rabbi and volunteers to speak with people from a distance and drop off packages keep a sense of community alive.
Now that limited in-person gatherings are permitted, the shul’s size permits 25 congregants. But even that is not quite as it was. “It’s coming in, praying and going, which is great because it’s more than we had before that,” he said, but there’s no food and no kibbitzing.
The holidays will see multiple services and people can arrange to be there specifically for Yizkor but perhaps not come for the entire day.
The chaos of shifting suddenly from the way things have always been done has not left Varnai a lot of time to reflect. But, when pressed, he acknowledged how surreal it is.
“It’s a huge change to the regular Jewish life that I’m accustomed to since I was a young boy, since my bar mitzvah, praying three times a day with a quorum of others,” he said. It’s a stunning transformation, but entirely within Jewish tradition. “We always put safety and well-being and health first.”
He puts the whole thing in perspective. “Our people came out of the centuries and had to go through a lot worse,” he said. “Not going to synagogue is not fun but, thank God, other generations were challenged with much greater hardships and we’re relatively blessed.”
Beth Hamidrash, the only Sephardi synagogue in Canada west of Toronto, counts among its congregants Dr. Jocelyn Srigley, a microbiologist who is a director with the infection prevention and control branch of the Provincial Health Services Authority. Rabbi Shlomo Gabay and shul president Eyal Daniel credit Srigley with helping guide them through this difficult time and say it was on her advice that their synagogue was the first in the city to close.
Despite the challenges, however, engagement is better than ever, said the rabbi. Daniel added that synagogue membership has actually jumped 20% since the pandemic began, something he credits to an increased desire for meaning, and also a direct outreach he began when he became president in June to encourage occasional attendees to commit to membership.
The strange situation has also helped strengthen relations between Beth Hamidrash and the two Sephardi congregations in Seattle. They virtually co-hosted an Israeli historian speaking on Medieval Spain, for example.
Probably no rabbi has had an experience quite like Rabbi Susan Tendler. The new spiritual leader at Richmond’s Conservative shul Beth Tikvah arrived in the midst of the lockdown with her family from her previous posting in Chattanooga, Tenn. The family then had to quarantine for 14 days, with community members dropping off prepared meals and greeting the family from a distance. Despite that unusual arrival, or perhaps because of it, she has reflected on big things.
“While I would never wish the pandemic on this world or on any person, really, this is an opportunity for renewal,” she said. “We do all have to reconsider what we’re doing and what our goals are and find new paths for reaching them.”
While hoping that services might return to normal in the not-too-distant future, she acknowledged that the very term sanctuary implies that every congregant must feel secure. “At a minimum,” she said, “it has to feel safe.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been amended to reflect that Or Shalom is affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement, not the Reconstructionist movement, as stated in the original online and print versions.
A peach salad not only looks pretty, it’s like a cold culinary shower on a hot day. (photo from pickpik.com)
Recently, I was food-shamed. Not for binge eating. Or for eating too much junk food. But for not eating enough vegetables. Guilty as charged. But seriously? In my own defence, I have a gut (or at least part of one) that doesn’t play nicely in the sandbox with all vegetables. Truth to tell, it can be somewhat of a bully.
Just to set the record straight, I wasn’t always veggie averse. A few short years ago, I could wolf down Caesar salads, corn on the cob and sautéed kale like nobody’s business. It’s mostly a distant memory now, though. But I can still share the love, even if I can’t eat all the food.
Being a bit of a COVID weeny, I’m not entirely comfortable going out to restaurants yet, so I continue to make do at home. Until recently, when the beautiful fresh veggies and fruits started showing up at the party, my fallback positions were fish, chicken and beef; the occasional pasta dish. It was getting a tad dull. So I’m thrilled that I now can eat lighter and fresher.
Here are a few of my favourite lazy summer salads. Nobody likes easy recipes quite like I do. My rule of thumb is this: if a recipe calls for a foodstuff or piece of equipment that a) I’ve never heard of, or b) I don’t know how to pronounce, there’s no way on earth I’m trying it. Hence, lazy-girl recipes are my specialty. The following are not only super-healthy, but they’ll hit the spot on days when you just don’t feel like cooking for real. And what better time to take advantage of all the fresh seasonal fruits and veggies available everywhere in Vancouver? This first salad not only looks pretty, it’s like a cold culinary shower on a hot day.
PEACHY SUMMER SALAD
peaches, diced Roma tomatoes, diced can of corn niblets, drained red or sweet onion, finely diced fresh mint or basil, chopped or cut chiffonade blueberries
Throw together a vinaigrette from olive oil and balsamic vinegar and, voilà, you’ve got yourself a refreshing, easy salad that’s a surefire crowd-pleaser. If, however, you’re a card-carrying carnivore like me, you might want to follow it up with an eight-ounce ribeye chaser.
Another summer fave is Sunomono salad. It’s a cold Japanese salad made of rice vermicelli noodles swimming in a rice wine vinegar dressing, if you will. You can add almost about anything to jazz it up, but, being a purist, I only like to throw in some thinly sliced English cucumber and maybe a bit of shredded carrot. If you crave protein, imitation crab will jack it up a notch. There are a variety of recipes for the dressing, but this is my no-fail go-to.
3/4 tsp salt 3/4 cup rice wine vinegar 1/2 cup sugar small squeeze of lemon juice few drops of soy sauce rice vermicelli noodles
Shake the first five ingredients together in a jar, then pour it over cooked and rinsed, cold rice vermicelli noodles. Don’t add too much dressing to each bowl, as it’s quite concentrated – just add enough to cover the noodles. Leftovers can stay in the fridge for a day or two. Sunomono is obviously too flimsy to be a main dish, but it makes a great starter or side dish and goes with everything, particularly fish. Think of it as a Japanese palate cleanser.
For a heartier salad that can double as a main dish (depending on your appetite), I’m a big fan of cold orzo salad. Since this salad is pasta-based, it’s much more filling than just a bowl full of veggies or fruit. And, with the bold-flavoured ingredients, it’s got a depth to it that belies its simplicity.
COLD ORZO SALAD
8 oz orzo pasta 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or more, to taste) 4 oz baby spinach (split in two bunches) 6 oz feta cheese, roughly crumbled 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted on the stove or in the toaster oven (optional) 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (optional) 3 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or less, to taste) 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (you can substitute lemon juice or regular vinegar) salt and pepper to taste
Cook the orzo eight to 10 minutes for al dente, or a bit longer if you like it softer. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Puree half the spinach and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a blender. Put cooled orzo in a big bowl and stir in the pureed spinach/olive oil mixture until the orzo is well-coated with the spinach puree.
Roughly chop the other half of the spinach. Lighty mix the chopped spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts, Kalamata olives and red onion in with the orzo.
Make the dressing in a small jar by combining the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar and the red wine vinegar. Put the lid on the jar and shake it to mix well, or whisk it all together in a small bowl. Pour over orzo mixture and gently mix till it’s all incorporated.
Chill the salad for at least an hour before serving to let the flavours meld.
To round out your meal, buy or make a simple rosemary focaccia. I make one from scratch (in a cast-iron pan) that’s to live for. Sure, it’s easier to buy one, but, if you really want to dazzle your dining companion(s), I suggest putting in the extra effort. Believe me, the effort/reward ratio is huge.
I found my recipe online at flavorthemoments.com/one-hour-rosemary-focaccia-bread and the only things I leave out are the garlic and parmesan, but it’s up to you. You could also add chopped Kalamata or green olives to it, but keep in mind it calls for coarse kosher salt sprinkled on top, so it’s already high in sodium. The focaccia turns outs camera-ready gorgeous and tastes heavenly straight out of the oven, dipped in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). I mean, who doesn’t love fresh bread? With the hot weather right around the corner (that’s the optimist in me), now might not be the best time to bake bread, but that’s your call. If you ask me, it’s totally worth it.
So, give yourself a break, throw together a salad for dinner and call it a day. If your spouse, partner or you are still hungry after all that, do what I do – order in pizza.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.