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Monday, September 8, 2008

The Jewish New Year

I love the fall. It is a time for new beginnings, as far as I can see. For much of my career, I've relied upon September 1st as the start of a new fiscal year, a new school year, a new start, in general. Even my own children have begun their new year this September. And with the arrival of Autumn comes the Jewish High Holy Days.

Growing up, my family was never particularly religious. In fact, out of the three daughters, my older sister was the only one to go through Hebrew School and achieve her Bat Mitzvah. As an adult, I realize I should have endured the time-honored tradition of attending Hebrew School (and hating it like every other Jewish kid) so that I, too, could know more about my religious upbringing. Instead, as an adult, I rely on a meger religious-education I have picked up here and there and I couple that with what is very important to family's love of Jewish tradition.

My mother, an unbelievable cook, makes our meals for most of the Jewish holidays. The meal is usually the same - it's not the kind of event where a great amount of experimentation is really acceptable. Instead, we eat the most amazing brisket (I can promise), the best matzoh ball soup anyone has ever eaten, for sure, and the proper accompaniments such as Potato Kugel, Noodle Kugel, Chopped Liver, Challah (round, to signify the cycle of life) and honey, among other things.

I have terrific memories of my family attending temple on the holidays and my younger sister and I managing to leave the service and run around downstairs with all of the other children. I loved watching my father kiss the Torah and kiss his prayer book with his Tallis. And the sounding of the Shofar - a ram's horn that is blown like a trumpet on Rosh Hashanah and then again on Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." The Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.

As Rosh Hashanah arrives in 20 days, and one of the most known observances of this holiday is apples and honey, to signify a sweet year, naturally I thought of food.

Below are a few books from my own library that have some great Jewish recipes - in case you're cooking for the holiday and need some new inspiration.

Saffron Shores, Joyce Goldstein: while my family would be considered "Ashkenazi" Jews (those from central or Eastern Europe), I have always loved the flavors of the Sephardic Jews(those from the Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Middle East). Joyce Goldstein's book is filled with beautiful photos and I particularly love the Moroccan Orange Salad with Olives.

Cucina Ebraica, Joyce Goldstein: I have said this before...I was Italian in my former life. I just know it. This book is one I adore as it marries Jews and Italians in food - what better way?? I made the Bocca di Dama (Passover Almond Sponge Cake). It tasted delicious but I had to make it twice - I surely wasn't going to let a mistake get the best of me! The second time was the charm. Well received!

The International Jewish Cook Book, Nina Froud: This was my grandmother's book. I've never made anything from this but I love looking at the recipes since they come from Jewish kitchens all over the world

The Book of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden: This is a renowned book and a James Beard Award Winner. I fell in love with this book about 10 years ago, when my then-boss, showed it to me. It's fascinatingly written as it's split into Ashkenazi and Sephardic sections. There are food musings, histories, photos, all throughout the book. It's wonderful and I make a few dishes from this book. All of them are terrific.

Happy New Year or "L'shanah Tovah"

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