This Rosh Hashanah brings to a close the year in which my father died. For this reason, and many others, I am grateful that the Jewish New Year is marked not by parties, but by days and weeks preceding and following of self-evaluation, quiet contemplation and prayers for blessings in the coming year.
In English, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are known as the High Holidays; in Hebrew, they are known as Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe). This year, more then any other, I understand those words.
When I try to think of planning a Rosh Hashanah meal — any meal — I think of my father and his joyful appetite for food and for life, and I want to stop. But the days do not stop, and the holidays roll around, and in the Jewish concept of these never-ending rituals, I found some comfort.
While looking up the dates for Rosh Hashanah, I noticed that in the Hebrew calendar, the New Year is placed in Tishrei, the seventh month of the year, instead of Nisan, the Hebrew equivalent of our January.
According to the "The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary" by Michael Strassfeld, "the presence of two New Years is not accidental, rather it grows out of a notion underlying the Jewish calendar, the notion of two kinds of time, historical and cyclic."
Historical time, Strassfeld explains, is linear movement, created by man, and set arbitrarily by clocks, calendars and our drive for progress, needs for change. Cyclical time, on the other hand, is set by nature, the timeless comfort of her seasons, and its symbol is the reoccurring phases of the moon. Strassfeld says we need both because "if historical time teaches us that to be alive is to move, cyclical time teaches us that sometimes to wait in place is more important then moving on."
And I observe in my family, through the phases of this special year, the gentle wisdom of both.
My brother, Mark, found a new job and started a vegetable garden where he grows cucumbers, pole beans, watermelons, and, my father’s favorites, brandy wine tomatoes. My sister, Susan, took to eating her meals outside, covering a corner of her yard with small white gravel and stringing white lights from the trees above, sure to reflect the moon. My brother, Jonathan, traveled to a business seminar in Boston that reminded him why he takes the overwhelming risks he does, following his entrepreneurial path like our father, but for him and his wife, Robin, so far away from home in London. My sister, Wendy, filled her yard with friends and food for her husband Yaron’s 40th birthday, and she made sure the most important people were there — his parents all the way from Israel. My mother started playing the piano at night, and in the days she created a rock garden from stones she unearthed herself.
Now, around the front corner of their home, brown earth supports sculptures of granite, like a prayer. And my brother, Harold, and his wife, Lori, are expecting their second child, bringing a new life into the New Year.
I hold my daughter even more than usual. I walk as often as I can to a park near our apartment and sit on a large flat stone near a creek, where I listen to water run over, around and under time-smoothed rocks; its flow reminding me that the cycles of days, years, death, then life, never end.
One of my father’s shining qualities was courage, so my Rosh Hashanah meal will be full of hearty foods reflecting what I’ve learned. I’ll make my mom’s delicious Stuffed Cabbage, remembering her rolling perfectly seasoned meat inside moist, pale green leaves as my father looked on, talking of how his mother also made wondrous stuffed meat dishes.
I’ll bake a round Honey Raisin Whole-Wheat Challah, because it is earthy and a little sweet. And for dessert, I will try an Apple Meringue Pie, a recipe from my sister’s mother-in-law, Eliza Kornreich. Because when my father was ill, she sent her love through baked goods express mailed from Haifa, and because I want to try something new.
Kay’s Honey Raisin Whole-Wheat Challah (Pareve)
Kay Levenson’s whole-wheat challah is divine. And this honey-raisin version, wrapped into a smiling circle, gives it an extra textured, sweet taste that is perfect for the holidays.
3 tablespoons (or three packages) fresh yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
6 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups old fashioned oats
4 cups white unbleached flour
1 cup warm water
5-6 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon warm water
Oil two 10-inch round baking pans and sprinkle with oatmeal (to prevent sticking and add extra flavor to bottom crust). In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water (between 105 F-115 F) with teaspoon of sugar and set aside to proof (or expand), approximately eight to 10 minutes.
In a large bowl mix oil, sugar, honey, beaten eggs, salt, oats, white flour and cup of warm water. Mix thoroughly. (Using a dough hook in the electric mixer on lower speed works well.) Add yeast mixture. Pour in raisins. Then gradually add whole-wheat flour, a 1/2 cup at a time, mixing as much as possible in the bowl. Knead on countertop approximately 5-10 minutes until dough is elastic and springs back to touch. You may need more or less of whole-wheat flour, so watch consistency of dough as you work, and sprinkle on flour sparingly and knead until dough loses sticky texture but doesn’t get dry. Place in oiled bowl, turning it to oil all sides. Cover and let it rise in a warm place until approximately doubled in size, about one to two hours. Punch down, knead a few more minutes, and shape into two large (or four small) loaves. Let the loaves rise one hour.
To shape the large loaves, roll half of dough into a long strip approximately 18-inches long and 3-inches wide, with one end slightly thinner then the other. Placer the thicker end in the center of oiled round pan and tightly coil strip around itself, tucking ends underneath. Let rise as instructed.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Brush the loaves with glaze and sprinkle with oats, if desired. Bake until golden brown, approximately 35 to 45 minutes (less for smaller loaves). Check the loaf after 30 minutes as oven timing varies. Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.
Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage
This dish is fun and therapeutic to make, what with the hearty mixing of meat by hand followed by the arranging and filling and rolling of a table full of soft leaves. It does, however, require some preparation ahead of time, like making the rice and freezing the cabbage for ease of use. But the taste of this delicately seasoned meat rolled in a thin layer of cabbage is refreshing and cozy all at once.
30-34 large cabbage leaves (two heads of cabbage)
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 cups cooked white rice
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 large onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
1 7 ounce can mushroom slices
1/2 cup water
Four days in advance, freeze the cabbages whole in tightly closed plastic bags. A day and a half in advance, remove the cabbages from the freezer and keep in a bag in the refrigerator to thaw.
Cook rice as specified on the package.
Cut out the core of the defrosted cabbage and gently peel out the leaves and spread on wax paper. It’s fine to use some of the small leaves as well as the larger ones. If the cabbage is still a little frozen and its leaves hard to remove, run them under warm water.
In a large bowl, soften the ground beef with your hands. Add well-beaten eggs, diced onion, sage, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add cooked rice and mix again.
Place a heaping tablespoon of meat on the center of a cabbage leaf, nearer the tougher core side. Fold the core area just over the meat, then fold in from each side over the meat and role up tightly, placing fold side down.
Pour tomato sauce, mushrooms with liquid and water into a large, heavy skillet. Cover and simmer on medium-low and slowly arrange the stuffed cabbage, fold side down, in sauce. Layering, if necessary, is fine. Add enough water — about a cup depending on the size of your pan — to come half way up sides of the top cabbage rolls. Bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and simmer approximately 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally.
Remove stuffed cabbage from sauce with slotted spoon and arrange on a serving platter. Pour sauce over and serve. Extra sauce can be served on this side.
Eliza’s Apple Meringue Pie (Pareve)
I was nervous to attempt this dessert because of the meringue. But it is worth it. As my mother said, the taste is elegant. And with the three distinct layers, each slice looks as beautiful, fresh and light as a new day.
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup margarine
2 tablespoon sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cold water
5 large Granny Smith apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
Dough: In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and sliced margarine with your fingers until crumbly texture. Add egg yolks, sugar and cold water and mix with fork or hands into a creamy dough that will be slightly sticky but light. Press into 9-inch pie plate along bottom and sides and refrigerate covered in plastic wrap.
Filling: Peel and slice apples into approximately eight slices each. In a heavy pot, combine apples, margarine and sugar. Cook on a low heat with top on for approximately 15 minutes or until apples are soft but not falling apart. Watch carefully so apples do not overcook and lose their shape. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Remove pie dough from refrigerator and pierce dough all over bottom with a fork. Blind bake for 15 minutes or until dough is golden. Remove from the oven and arrange the apple slices, overlapping in concentric circles, without liquid, on the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon over the apples.
Lower oven temperature to 325 F.
Meringue: In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites on medium until foamy. Gradually add sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, and vanilla, beating on high, until mixture stands in glossy white peaks when beaters are lifted. Gently spread over apples and bake for 20 minutes. Meringue will be browned. Cool to room temperature before serving.