The Heart Follows the Deed

As we put away our machzors (prayerbooks) and look towards preparing for Sukkos, I can’t help but feel a little nervous.  All the food I prepared for Rosh Hashana and breaking the fast is finished, digested and now a pleasant memory.  I worked so hard.  I shopped and shlepped.  I peeled and chopped.  I gave my dishes fanciful names and presented them with pride.   I know this time of year is kitchen intensive, but I’m ever amazed that the days go by so quickly and here we are again with Shabbos and yomtov looming. 

I should welcome the challenge, and I do, with joy and gratitude in my heart, but it is daunting none the less.  How do I reframe my thoughts to help me get back into the kitchen refreshed?

As we recall our fervent Yom Kippur prayers, I imagine that good health for loved ones tops the list.  And as we know, with any prayer, we must do our hishtadlus (put in our efforts).  If I am praying for vigour and know that diet plays a significant role in achieving it, then my cooking becomes more than a chore.  It becomes transcendental. 

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes; “Don’t expect to have faith or find God by waiting for him to find us.  We have to begin the journey.  Then God meets us halfway.”  If this is true, then our kitchens become holy space because this is where raw ingredients are transformed into nutrients that delight, comfort and sustain our bodies.  How extraordinary.

And yet, there are only so many hours in the day.  How do I maximize my efforts while admitting the needle in the tank isn’t on full?

The answer comes to me in my grandmother’s whisper, make Chicken Fricasee.  Lots.

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Make Less and Enjoy It More – A Personal Prayer for Yom Kippur

A friend opened up my fridge today and asked “Where are all the leftovers?”  If she only knew what a compliment she had given me.

In the past, after celebrating 2 days of Rosh Hashana, I’ve felt like I’ve been shmaltzed, stuffed and baked myself.  So the last couple of years, I’ve made a very big effort to try and avoid cooking to excess.  (Given that, I am proud to have a freezer stocked with soups and a modest amount of seasonal produce -it will be winsome to have a rhubarb strawberry pie in October).          

If you are the kind of cook who likes to have leftovers in the freezer, then I’m sure this isn’t an issue for you, but I’ve tried to navigate my own black hole of freezer burned mystery contents too often and I find it frustrating.

Why do I overcook?

What I’ve observed is that I overcook when;

  1. I don’t create a cooking/shopping time plan for overview,
  2. I’m insecure in the knowledge that what I’m making will be good enough, or
  3. That that I won’t have enough food.

 It requires special effort to notice the thinking that leads to a too tired cook who already has too much going on. 

I inevitably embark on a kitchen frenzy when I allow other hectic areas of my life to take charge of my cooking sessions.  And it always surprises me that it is more mentally and emotionally challenging to make less food rather than more.

Admittedly, I don’t want to stuff my family and guests.  How then, do I moderate my cooking?

 Recalling knowledge that is born of experience, I have come to realize that I am the main ingredient.  If I am tired, upset, or overworked, it will come through in my food.

The advice of my wise mother (a devoted and superb cook) comes to mind;

  • If you are standing, sit.  If you are sitting, put your feet up.
  • Your friends (and your children’s friends) know you can cook.  You don’t have to prove it.
  • Although the holidays are a special time, you don’t have to cook every one’s favourite at the same time.  There is a whole year of holidays.

And although I still sometimes worry that there won’t be enough food, I have to admit that in all my decades of cooking and hosting, I don’t think anyone has left my table hungry.

 I want to leave you with a recipe for Marmouma, a red pepper spread that has been a Rosh Hashana family favourite for years (especially for now because the red peppers are local, inexpensive and plentiful).  You still have time to make it for your Sukkos meals, but try not to be in a rush or it may burn, but then again, you can always call it Smoked Marmouma.

Welcome to my New Year soup kitchen

Image

While the secular world celebrates the calendar new year with parties where champagne flows and party horns  blow (I’ve never actually been to one, but am relying on old movies), the Jewish world marks its new year, Rosh Hashana, with prayer, the sound of the shofar (a ram’s horn) and special meals enjoyed with family and friends.

Traditional foods that we eat at this time of year are pomegranates and apple slices dipped in honey.  But there are other eatables of note that may not be as well known.

At the beginning of each of the two days of Rosh Hashana, which according to the Jewish calendar starts at sundown, some prepare a simunim tray or a tray of ‘significant omens’.  Carrots, leeks, beets, dates and squash are among the favourites.  Before we take a bite, we say a blessing so that through our heightened awareness of each lowly fruit or vegetable, we elevate the very physical act of eating.

So much can be achieved together, seated around the table.  But to go there is a journey.  There is work to be done.

In the cooking leading up to the holiday, the kitchen is redolent with these featured ingredients as they find their way into many of the dishes.  So, to begin, I market.  Baskets of this and bushels of that beckon.  I’m sure you can see, with your minds eye, the hills of produce that begin to assemble themselves on my kitchen counter.  A mini produce stall sets up residence.  Where to start?

I always begin with soup. 

Soup is so good, so easy.  You just give the vegetables a little love and before you know it your pots are simmering away with the promise of warmth, comfort and security.  This is because the soups prepared at this time of year freeze beautifully.  An able cook can move through pounds of produce and make signature soups that always hit the spot.

My featured trio are; zucchini (recipe follows), carrot and parsnip, and butternut squash.  Others come to mind, but I grow giddy with  possibility.

Image

This is always a busy time of year, usually indicated by the new in front of so many of our experiences.  New school year, new friends, new emotional adjustments as kids move away to university or new countries (awww, mom, you said you wouldn’t cry). 

But what do we do with the old feelings?

My therapy is to make soup.  Soup to sip, soup to share and soup to nourish. 

Zucchini Soup

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada