Lorin Paley: Food makes the festival | SteamboatToday.com

Lorin Paley: Food makes the festival

Steamboat Springs — Hanukkah is over now, but my memory has a funny way of playing tricks on me. When it comes to the holidays, I can't remember them by their history or prayers. Rather, I recall the prayers, traditions and history of the holidays by the food we eat. The preparation, smell and taste of food is my guide to the Jewish holidays. As a joke explains, all Jewish holidays go as follows: They tried to kill us, we won, so let's eat! — Hanukkah is over now, but my memory has a funny way of playing tricks on me. When it comes to the holidays, I can't remember them by their history or prayers. Rather, I recall the prayers, traditions and history of the holidays by the food we eat. The preparation, smell and taste of food is my guide to the Jewish holidays. As a joke explains, all Jewish holidays go as follows: They tried to kill us, we won, so let's eat!

— Hanukkah is over now, but my memory has a funny way of playing tricks on me. When it comes to the holidays, I can’t remember them by their history or prayers. Rather, I recall the prayers, traditions and history of the holidays by the food we eat. The preparation, smell and taste of food is my guide to the Jewish holidays. As a joke explains, all Jewish holidays go as follows: They tried to kill us, we won, so let’s eat!

For Passover, it’s crunchy matzo, the unleavened bread that the Hebrews took on their exodus from Egypt. Hamentashen, a prune-filled, triangle-shaped dessert representing the villain Hamen’s hat, reveals the story of Purim. The same goes for Hanukkah – from the latkes fried in oil, to the brisket, the holiday cannot be celebrated without a heroic amount of holiday eating.

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights celebrating the recovery and rededication of the Temple. As legend goes, in ancient times, Judas Maccabee and his brothers fought against great odds to take back the Temple from the idol-worshiping Assyrians and rededicated the Temple by lighting the Menorah. They lit the candles with only enough purified oil for one day, but, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. In celebration of this miracle, as much food as possible is fried in oil. From latkes (shredded potato pancakes) to jelly doughnuts, plenty of food is thrown into the frying pan. My father and brother are in charge of battling the frying pan. The delicious smell of latkes is accompanied by the spitting of oil. As a consequence of all the family crowded into the kitchen, almost everyone has a wound to display.

There are traditional dishes that always accompany our family’s holiday celebrations. Brisket, a delicious cut of mystery meat cooked for hours until it nearly falls apart, is usually half-eaten by dinnertime. Oddly, cranberry sauce, which has nothing to do with traditional Jewish food, always finds its way onto our menu. The family recipe calls for Grand Marnier, and a little too much is always added thanks to the grandparents. Matzo balls, an oil and matzo meal combination, are added to chicken or vegetable soup.

Many of the traditional dishes have been passed down to us from my grandparents using a mysterious measurement system. “A bit of this, a dash of that, cook it for a while : don’t worry mashugana (Yiddish word for crazy) it will turn out fine.”

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By this time of the meal, everyone’s stomach is about to burst. But, if the plates aren’t clean, the grandparents remark, “What, you don’t like my cooking?” Unfortunately for everyone’s pants’ buttons, we move on to the kugel. I list this food in between dessert and the main course because no one has ever figured out to which it belongs. It consists of egg noodles, so maybe it belongs to the main dish category. But wait! It’s sweet and sugary, with cinnamon on top. In either category, it usually serves as a staple for most of our holiday dinners.

Finally, dessert is a double chocolate cake. Founded, of course, when my grandma wanted to get rid of all of her chocolate chips.

Whew! That was a mouthful. Whatever holidays you’re celebrating this season just remember to say, “Yum, yum, thanks for the grub, yay grandparents!”