Friday, October 7, 2011

A New Year's Feast

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is a two day holiday which typically falls nears the start of autumn. Its Gregorian calendar date varies from year to year because of the lunar cycle that serves as the basis for the Jewish calendar. The holiday starts in the evening because this is when the Jewish day and new year starts. The year is typically welcomed with a large meal that includes specific symbolic foods.

This year, I went to my cousin's house to celebrate the second night (start of the second day) of Rosh Hashanah (lit. Head of the Year). Since my cousins and their parents are Orthodox, they were not allowed to turn electricity on or off and thus had to prepare the food the day before and leave the ovens and burners on low. In the course of 6 hours, however, my older cousin and his mother prepared an incredible multi-course feast that incorporated the symbolic foods into the meal.

Our first course was a round Challah, a traditional Jewish egg bread, symbolizing the continuity of creation, which we passed around and drizzled with honey. The next course was a plate which included small pieces of foods specific to the holiday. On the plate was a slice of Asian pear (the "new fruit" one eats on the second night as a seasonal fruit one hasn't been eaten since the season began); a piece of butternut squash; leeks baked in thyme, pepper, salt and oil; a date; a carrot (in Yiddish, the word for carrot sounds similar to the word meaning "to multiply"); a piece of pomegranate (to represent a year full of good deeds); and a slice of apple to dip in honey (to represent the desire for a sweet year). We next had a slice of tri-layer gefilte fish: a layer of gefilte fish mixed with dill sandwiching a layer of salmon gefilte fish, all topped with a roasted baby carrot tied with a chive. The fish (or rather the head of fish) expresses the desire to be at the "head" of the year. The next course was the soup course, which allowed us to choose between a roasted pepper cauliflower soup with cumin and a touch of curry and a rich dark chicken soup with carrots and celery that had all of the meat and bones still in the broth (although bones were avoided when the soup was ladled).

The main course was a buffet-style course with French influences. One metal bowl contained a salad with bok choy, almonds, scallions, and a soy-ginger dressing, while another contained chopped up beets and carrots drizzled with oil and balsamic vinegar. The side dishes were lentils stewed with carrots and celery (barely visible in the back left corner), and roasted potatoes and squash (the two rectangular plates in the foreground). The main meat dishes were Cornish hens stuffed with basmati rice (which thankfully stayed in the hens even when they were cut in half) and Lamb Provencal, sliced and bordered by the baked leeks (shown in the long plate placed diagonally). The Lamb Provencal consisted of lamb shoulder cooked in chopped onions and two cans of tomatoes, then spread with garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard. He then added a dash of salt and pepper and drizzled honey over everything to seal and tenderize the meat. For dessert, we had sliced glazed apples inside an open square puff pastry. The presentation of all courses was impressive, although not totally surprising: my cousin Spencer Brennan is a skilled artist who usually has a vision in mind.

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