Roll Away Hunger

Yom Kippur’s break the fast is the most anticipated meal of the year. Of course, it’s because we’re starving; we’ve been fantasizing about that first bite for the last 25 hours.

As soon as the sun goes down and the shofar is blown for the last time, our thoughts invariably turn to: How fast can we get to that buffet table?

But as delicious as our traditional dairy delicacies are, they don’t respect the fact that our stomachs have been on hiatus for over a day.

Instead, consider cold Avocado-Cucumber Soup and Sushi.

Sushi chef Tracy Griffith’s recipes are easy to digest and high in water content — exactly what our bodies need after a day with no sustenance.

Griffith of Rika Restaurant and Diamond Lounge on Sunset believes her signature cuisine is the perfect meal for after a fast. It’s not only easy on our digestive systems, but it’s also a treat to our weary eyes. The talented chef and accomplished artist said, "We eat first with our eyes."

And what’s more inspiring than white rice wrapped in black nori with glistening fish accented by exotic fruits and emerald vegetables? A golden brown challah, ruby-colored wine, a dessert of summer melons colored red, orange and green. This bountiful table of edible art will be a peaceful, harmonious culmination of the most holy day of the year.

Griffith was greatly influenced by Freddie Samuels, her Jewish stepfather whose artistic endeavors included the innovative window displays at Macy’s in New York.

"He has such a high sense of aesthetics. He taught me to appreciate beauty in everything, from how a table should look — set with candles and flowers — to how good food should taste. He loves to cook and owned a wonderful Italian restaurant in New York," she said.

"Lottie [Samuels’ mother] was always cooking this amazing Jewish food — delicious brisket and rugelach. She made us eat until we were sick," Griffith recalled. "And she’d insist we take the rest home. She was so nurturing, always worrying about everybody else — the epitome of the Jewish mother. I loved her."

Combining her talents and background, and buoyed by Samuels, her mother, Nanita ,and her actress sister, Melanie Griffith, Tracy attended the California Sushi Academy in Venice, and became the school’s first female graduate.

While working as a sushi chef at Tsunami in Beverly Hills, Griffith began experimenting with everyday ingredients, creating unusual combinations. She has put her ideas into "Sushi American Style," a cookbook recently published by Clarkson Potter. "I dive into the fusion aspect of sushi, using nontraditional ingredients that are appealing, easy to find and work with," she said.

In the book, Griffith features suggestions, not only for a dairy meal, but also a meat meal, such as the Opal Roll, an inside-out roll made with prime grilled sirloin, red onion, arugula and pink peppercorns served with jalapeno soy sauce.

You might bump into Griffith at a Jewish wedding or bar mitzvah; she’s been catering a lot lately. As is the appeal at Yom Kippur — sushi is healthy, light and easy to make kosher, to say nothing of being delicious.

Avocado-Cucumber Soup

Make this soup the day before Yom Kippur. The flavors will meld and actually taste better the next day. Make sure the vegetables are very fresh and of superb quality.

1 large hothouse cucumber, peeled

1 large avocado, peeled and pitted

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons homemade vegetable stock or water

1¼2 teaspoon mild curry powder such as Madras

1¼2 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1¼8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chives, snipped into 1¼2-inch pieces

1 package edible flowers (optional)

White truffle oil for garnish (optional)

In a blender puree cucumber, avocado, yogurt, vegetable stock or water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season with salt and pepper; refrigerate. Pour into individual bowls; garnish each serving with a few chive sprigs, edible flowers, if desired, and a swirl of truffle oil.

Makes 4 servings.

L’Chaim (To Life) Roll

The day before Yom Kippur, cut whitefish and apple, soak apple in citrus water. Trimmed chives should be soaking in citrus water also. At the break the fast meal, set out ingredients; demonstrate how to make the hand rolls, and then let the guests do their own.

4 ounces ginger-flavored kosher whitefish caviar

1/2 cup crème fraiche

1 cup sushi rice

1¼2 pound of smoked whitefish, cut in

1¼2 -x-4 inch strips

6 to 8 half-sheets roasted nori

1 green apple, cut into 1¼4-inch matchsticks

2 to 3 ounces pickled ginger

1 bunch fresh chives, trimmed to 4 inches

Gently mix the caviar with the crème fraiche.

How to Assemble a Cylinder Hand Roll: Spread 2 tablespoons sushi rice on nori sheet. Place nori vertically on rolling mat. Wet hands; spread about 2 tablespoons sushi rice on nori sheet, leaving a 1-inch border at the top. Lay in 2 strips of whitefish, 3 sticks of apple, a few pieces of pickled ginger and 3 to 4 chive sprigs. Crimp over the bottom edge (not up and over the ingredients) and roll up like a sleeping bag into a cylinder. Dollop a heaping teaspoon of crème fraiche-caviar mixture on top of each roll. Pass a small pitcher of soy sauce to pour into rolls. Serve with cocktail napkins in small fluted or shot glass or lay sideways on a plate.

Makes 6 to 8 hand rolls.

"Watermelon" Sushi

The day before Yom Kippur cut cucumber, combine ahi tuna and spicy mayonnaise, and make Mayonnaise and Dipping Sauce. Keep everything in refrigerator. When you get home from temple you and your guests can assemble this easy, colorful sushi.

1 unpeeled hothouse or English cucumber at least 11¼2 inches in diameter

3¼4 cup minced sushi-grade Ahi tuna

2 teaspoons spicy mayonnaise

1¼2 cup prepared Sushi Rice

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

1¼2 cup Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce

Cut cucumber into 10 to 121¼2 inch rounds. Using a 11¼2 inch round canapé cutter with a scalloped edge, cut out the center of the cucumber. Reserve centers for garnish. In small glass mixing bowl, mix tuna with mayonnaise. Firmly press 1 teaspoon of rice into each cucumber circle to fill it halfway. Top rice with 1 teaspoon of the spicy tuna. Sprinkle tuna with a few scattered black sesame seeds to resemble watermelon seeds. Serve with Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce.

Makes 10 to 12 pieces.

Sushi Rice With Rice Dressing

From "Sushi American Style" by Griffith (Clarkson Potter, 2004). If you think you’ll make sushi more than once, Griffith emphasizes the importance of purchasing a rice cooker. Makes about 6 cups cooked rice.

3 cups short-grain white sushi rice

3 to 31¼2 cups of water

Pour rice into a freestanding wire-mesh sieve. Under cold water gently swish rice around with your fingers until water runs almost clear, about 1 minute. To dry, fan rice up and around sides of colander, exposing it to the air. Let sit until completely dry, about 30 minutes. (This step may be done in the morning before temple so that when you get home you can begin cooking rice immediately)

Cook rice in your rice cooker according to directions for Sushi Rice.With a rice paddle, scoop hot rice from cooker insert and spread out evenly over bottom of a large shallow wooden bowl or a large glass baking dish. Holding paddle perpendicularly over rice, drizzle rice dressing over back of paddle, evenly covering rice’s surface. Fold dressing through the rice until grains are coated and glossy.

Place dressed Sushi Rice back into cooker; cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel to keep in moisture. Click cooker button onto the warmer setting. Sushi rice is easier to handle when it’s warm; it also tastes better.

Rice Dressing

The sweet vinegar dressing used on Sushi Rice is called sushi-zu and is the secret to its glossiness and sticking power.

1¼2 cup rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, stir vinegar, sugar, and salt over low heat until sugar and salt dissolve. Do not let mixture boil. Stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool and store in a screw-top jar. When ready to make sushi, add 1 tablespoon of dressing per every cup of cooked rice. Adjust the sweetness to taste. This dressing may be made be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for weeks.

Makes 1¼2 cup.

Spicy Mayonnaise

1¼2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Sriracha (Korean) chili sauce

In a small bowl, mix together ingredients with a fork. For more fire add more chili sauce.

Makes 1¼2 cup

Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce

3¼4 cup soy sauce

5 tablespoons lemon juice, strained

3 teaspoons orange juice, strained

Combine ingredients in a glass jar. Shake vigorously. Keeps in refrigerator up to 4 weeks.

Makes about 11¼2 cups.

Building Up

When I heard his voice on my office voice mail, I knew right away that I’d like him. My girlfriend in San Francisco had just left
a message forewarning me of this eligible divorcé’s phone call.

"He looks like JFK Jr.," she raved.

Though he was extremely geographically undesirable, I decided to keep an open mind.

"Golfboy" (he was addicted to the sport) sounded fabulous on paper: Smart, funny, well-traveled and athletic, he had Midwestern roots and was divorced with no kids (like me), just the right age (three years my senior) and even had two little white dogs (I have one myself) that he cherished. In no time we started to e-mail each other daily, playing a never-ending round of trivia. E-mails were also supplemented by amusing phone conversations where the repartee flowed smoothly.

Golfboy lived in and was raised in a decidedly WASPy milieu. Between the nonstop golf at the country club, a family that celebrated Christmas, an older brother who was a "Jr." and a last name that was unbelievably WASPatized, I wondered if he would or could ever be Jewish enough for me. Conversely, knowing that his first wife was a blonde non-Jew made me contemplate whether this guy could be attracted to me in all my Semitic splendor.

After about three weeks of some sort of daily communication, I arrived at work and received my dream e-mail: My knight in shining armor-to-be was coming to Los Angeles! For an entire weekend? Uh-oh. Two nights and two days with a man that I’ve never even laid eyes upon? Not even a photo? I decided to put my faith in my friend and let the weekend date fall as it may.

As the days grew closer to Golfboy’s impending visit, the e-mails became more and more endearing.

"I can’t wait to see your pretty mug," he gushed. "I have a really good gut instinct about us," and similar sentiments.

I was definitely curious to meet him and loved his enthusiasm, but I wondered, could I ever live up to the image he had created in his mind? I tried to downplay my expectations.

"He’s building you up so much that you can only come crashing down," cautioned my mother, aka "Mrs. Right." "Since when does a 44-year-old, successful, straight man have trouble meeting a woman in a city full of gays?" she inquired.

Yet as the days to our big date grew closer, I noticed I wasn’t alone in the game of high expectations. Many of my friends were being set up and meeting men on the Internet and getting sucked in quickly by this insidious "build-up phenomenon."

They’d have a few great phone conversations and e-mails and then I’d hear, "I’ve met my future husband. I just have such a great feeling about this!"

Is it possible for us mere mortals to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground until we meet these guys in person and get to know them? Or must we immediately project our fantasies and create these perfect men that we so desperately want to meet?

These thoughts competed with my excitement on the day of the date. My excitement turned to nausea and my heart dropped into my stomach as I dialed Golfboy’s room at the Peninsula Hotel (classy!) from the lobby, just as we had planned.

No answer. Did he change his mind?

I turned around and there he was: Not exactly JFK Jr. (who is?) — more like a Jewish George Hamilton sans fake tan. Still, he was cute enough; and anyway, wasn’t I interested in his personality?

But my heart dropped again — this time in disappointment, not nervousness — when I caught his first look at me. It was a look that said, "Less than thrilled."

What did he expect? Bo Derek on the beach with cornrows in her hair? I thought that I had described myself fairly accurately as a Julia Louis Dreyfus type — petite, long curly hair, etc.

That weekend, we stuck to our agreed-upon schedule of activities (hiking, dinners at fine restaurants, massages at the hotel, etc.) and got along famously, as I knew we would. Although he was the consummate gentleman, sadly, it hardly was the amorous weekend that I had hoped to have. As much as I had tried to avoid the build-up phenomenon, it had hit me, too.

I was rather appalled by his perilously high level of self-disclosure (did I really need to know that he has issues of abandonment with his mother on our first weekend together?) and disappointed that throughout the entire weekend he barely made me laugh.

As I dropped him off at the airport knowing that I’d never see this man again, I realized that my mother was right. How could two people who had been fantasizing and building each other up for so long ever satisfy each other?

Next time around, I’m not going to get carried away: Fantasies are great, but there’s no room for them in the brutal world of dating.

Elizabeth Much is a partner with Much and House Public Relations, where she
runs the entertainment division. She can be reached via e-mail at