Barbecued chicken wings for Lag B’Omer

In Israel, Sunday is a regular workday. The “weekend” is the Sabbath; it starts at noon or mid-afternoon on Friday and lasts through Saturday. If you live in Israel and follow the traditions for the Sabbath and holy days, your weekend is spent preparing for the Sabbath or observing the Sabbath, which means no driving, cooking, or using money (and that includes credit cards).

So in Israel, minor holidays like Lag B’Omer – which this year falls on Sunday, May 18  –  are important. They’re a day off, but they carry none of the restrictions prohibiting work, travel or other everyday activities. Lag B’Omer is a weird holiday because no one really knows where it came from or what it means. The first mention of it is in a 13th century text, where a scholar mentions that on this day a plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva – one of the great sages in Jewish history – stopped. Another tradition says that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a great sage of the second century, revealed the secrets of the Kabbalah, Jewish mystical teaching, just before he died on Lag B’Omer.

The name refers to the date of the holiday. An “omer” is a sheaf of barley. In Leviticus (23:15-16), the Israelites are told to make an offering of an omer on the second day of Passover and then to count 50 days until Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. The period is known as the Omer. On the second night of Passover, we begin “counting the Omer.” Every day at evening services, we say “Today is Day Six (or whatever) in the Omer.” In the ancient Hebrew system, letters were used for numbers; the letter signifying 30 sounds like “L” and the letter for 3 sounds like “G,”  and together they sound like “lag”.” So the 33rd day of the Omer became known as Lag B’Omer.

A break in a period of semi-mourning

Other than counting, not much happens during the period of the Omer, except it’s traditionally a period of semi-mourning. No weddings or other joyous events are scheduled during this time, and many men don’t shave or cut their hair. Lag B’Omer marks a break in that depressing stretch of time.

In the Middle Ages Lag B’Omer became a holiday for rabbinic students, when they engaged in outdoor sports. Today it’s a great day for holding picnics, barbecues and sporting events. And because it’s the only day during the 50-day Omer period when weddings are permitted, it’s considered an auspicious day to start a marriage; in Israel, hundreds of weddings take place. On Lag B’Omer, people light bonfires in fields and open spaces to remember Rabbi Shimon and the light he brought to the world. Hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews gather at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon on Mount Meron in northern Israel for an enormous bonfire.

The other big Lag B’Omer custom is for children to play with bows and arrows (often rubber-tipped), though again no one knows why. Maybe the bow represents a rainbow, God’s sign that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. Jewish lore says the rainbow was not seen during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime, because his merit was great enough to protect the world. After his death, we again needed the rainbow. An alternative explanation for the bows and arrows is that anti-Roman rebels led by Simon Bar Kochba achieved a minor victory on Lag B’Omer, before being utterly crushed by the Romans. Some say those 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva actually fell fighting the Romans.

Gadna, the Israel Defense Forces’ youth brigade, was founded on Lag B’Omer in 1941 and has a bow and arrow as its emblem.

I thought a barbecue recipe would be appropriate this week, in honor of Lag B’Omer and also because it’s finally getting warm enough in Michigan and other northern climes that we can hope we might once again be able to enjoy outdoor activities.

This recipe for Asian-style barbecued chicken wings is quite easy and makes a nice break from the traditional tomato-based barbecue sauces.

Please a picky eater with these marvelous meatballs


A few years ago my book club read a wonderful book by Elizabeth Ehrlich called Miriam’s Kitchen. It’s a collection of essays, many connected with her mother-in-law Miriam, the foods she cooked and the lessons the author learned from her. Each chapter ends with recipes.

But the story I most remember from the book was a short anecdote about Ehrlich trying to feed her young children. Once Ehrlich labored to cook a veal stew and brought it to the table with a flourish. “Voila!” she said, as she presented it to her hungry family. Whereupon her 3-year-old said, “I hate voila!”

I’ve been thinking about that story now that my 3-year-old granddaughter has been visiting for Passover. She has a similar response to most new foods: “I don’t like it!” she’ll say, wrinkling her cute little nose, even though she’s never eaten it.

How do children learn to be picky?

Most children eat almost everything when they start on solid food. But as soon as they learn to say “no,” it seems they use the word very liberally when it comes to food.

When my kids were little, I thought there must be some kind of pre-school underground where they learned this stuff. “Don’t eat the crusts, crusts are bad,” I imagined one toddler saying to another. “Don’t eat raisins, raisins are yuck.”

How else to explain why kids who cheerfully ate an entire sandwich and gobbled “raisin boxes” by the dozen would suddenly refuse to eat bread unless the crust was removed and would no longer touch a dried grape?

Being stuck with a truly picky eater can be very frustrating. Parenting magazines, books and website are full of advice, most of which doesn’t work, as Debbie Koenig can attest.

You can lead a kid to food but you can’t make him eat

Koenig, a food writer and cooking teacher, wrote about her son Harry’s picky eating on Parents magazine’s website. Here are some of the strategies she tried:

  • Sam-I-Am-ing: We tried to encourage Harry to just take a single bite—hey, he might be surprised by how good it tastes. He stalled, he sobbed, he finally succumbed … and I felt like the worst mother in the world. Who wants her child to succumb to food?
  • Bartering: We promised dessert in exchange for a mouthful of a new food. That iron-willed whippersnapper would just forgo the treat—something I’d never be able to do.
  • Going dessert-neutral, serving it together with the rest of the meal, so as not to turn it into a reward. (That’s right, we flip-flopped.) I was pleasantly surprised that Harry didn’t gorge on sweets, but he also rarely tasted a new food.
  • Reverse psychology: We told Harry that the delicious gnocchi, over which his dad and I were loudly oooing and aaaahing, was off limits to kids. Nope, no siree, he couldn’t have any. This was generally met with a shrug and a request for more yogurt.
  • Homemade versions of processed foods: He turned up his nose at my meatballs, preferring one particular brand of frozen minis. Hand-cut-and-breaded fish sticks went untouched. Macaroni and cheese, my mom’s recipe instead of the powdered packet? “That’s not macaroni and cheese,” he said, fighting tears.
  • Cooking with Harry: Experts insist that kids are more likely to eat food they helped to make. For a while, Harry was happy to be my sous chef, although he never tasted the results. And then one day I suggested that since he’d enjoyed spinning the salad so much, he might like to try some. He packed up his specially purchased, kid-friendly knives that very day.

A healthy appetite

We may roll our eyes when we get the “I don’t like it!” response. But we can hardly complain, because our granddaughter is still a good eater. She does have her favorites: watermelon, pizza, pasta (with and without sauce), scrambled eggs and “chicken on the bone” (a drumstick—with no skin!). She won’t touch a green bean, but she adores artichokes, black olives and Chinese food.

She also adores this recipe for sweet-and-sour meatballs. Last January she was sick and in the hospital for several days, with little appetite. When she felt better, the only food she requested was meatballs. One of my daughter’s friends brought her a containerful, and she downed about three servings before coming up for air.

Come to think of it, I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like these meatballs, and they’re extremely easy to make.



My game of Jeopardy! (and a California recipe)

Answer: It was broadcast on April 2, 2004.

Question: What was Bobbie Lewis’s national television debut?

It’s hard to believe that was almost 10 years ago! As I mentioned in my February 17 Feed the Spirit, I was a contestant on Jeopardy!, which is marking its 50th anniversary this week. My show was taped in mid-January, 2004 and aired on April 2.

That was so long ago that I have the recording on VHS, not on DVD.

So how did this come about? In the fall of 2003, Jeopardy! held auditions in Detroit.

My friends and family kept telling me I was good at trivia – indeed, I could often answer the Jeopardy! questions quickly – so I registered and a few weeks later found myself with 100 or so other hopefuls in the ballroom of a Detroit-area hotel. It was one of at least five such sessions in Detroit; there are a lot of people who dream of being on Jeopardy!

Answer: You ace a test with 50 short-answer trivia questions.

Question: How do you get invited to be on Jeopardy!?

They gave us a 50-question quiz, reading and projecting the questions on a screen, while we scribbled the short answers on an answer sheet. The questions seemed to come every five seconds or so. There was no way to say to yourself, “Ooh, ooh, I know that, let me come back to it,” because by then they were on to the next question – and there was nothing on the answer sheet to help you remember the question.

I missed at least five, and probably got at least a few more wrong. Dejected, I started to pack up my things when I heard my name called as one of the half-dozen from that session who had made the cut.

Answer: You’ll never know.

Question: What’s a passing score on the Jeopardy! quiz?

They never tell applicants what the “passing” score is or what their personal score was; you either make the cut or you don’t.  In some sessions there were a dozen who passed, in others, three or four. “Tell your family and friends you missed it by one,”  was their not-so-helpful suggestion for the losers.

We chosen few were asked to participate in a short mock game and then do a short taped interview. They wanted to make sure the prospects wouldn’t freeze at the sight of a camera.

Then they told us we’d be in a “pool” of contestants for a year, and they could call us any time. “Well, that’s that,” I thought, never expecting to hear anything more. Imagine my surprise when the producers called just a month later, inviting me to be on the show!

Now the process is a little different. They do an initial weed-out of applicants with an online quiz a few times a year. Those who pass can move on to an in-person audition – another 50-question quiz plus the mock game and interview – either at the Sony studio in Los Angeles or at one of the other cities the team visits throughout the year. Learn more about the process here.

Answer: A lot!

Question: What do most viewers not know about Jeopardy!?

  • They tape five shows a day, one after the other, with an hour’s break for lunch. The week’s worth of contestants – 11 hopefuls  plus a few alternates – start out together in the morning. Except for the previous game’s winner, all contestants are chosen by lottery from the day’s pool.
  • Only the winner gets the money. The person who finishes second gets $2,000 and the person who finishes last gets $1,000.
  • Jeopardy! doesn’t pay for airfare, hotel or any other expenses – but the winnings should cover it, even if you come in last. (If you win the last game of the day and live out of town, they do pay for you to come back the following week.)
  • There isn’t a huge amount of swag for contestants either. I got a Jeopardy! tote bag, a travel mug, a cheap ballpoint pen – and a very nice glass frame with a photo of me and host Alex Trebek.
  • All the contestants are instructed to bring two changes of clothing, so if you win and come back, it looks like it’s another day. I guess they figure out that if you win three games and there’s still more taping to be done that day, no one will notice if you’re wearing the same clothes you wore a few games earlier.
  • Around the game board is a row of lights, which you can’t see on your TV. Contestants are not supposed to buzz in until the lights go off when Alex finishes reading the question. Those who buzz in too early are penalized a tenth of a second. That’s why you see contestants hitting their buzzers repeatedly – if they’re too early, and no one else buzzes in, they might still have a chance to answer.

It was my luck to be in the last game taped that day, so I had to sit through four previous games with my palms sweaty and stomach churning.

Before the first game of the day, one of the producers goes over the personal stories for Alex’s chat after the first commercial break. The producer gives Alex two stories per contestant to choose from.

Here’s my favorite, which for some reason Alex chose not to use:

The contestant was an attorney in Washington, D.C. and was at a fancy government dinner where someone introduced her to King Somebody. She had an Uncle King, and was interested to meet someone with the same name. “So, King,” she said, “what is it that you do?” He looked at her for a long moment and then said, “I’m the king.

Answer: By being the only contestant to get the correct answer to Final Jeopardy.

Question: How did Bobbie Lewis redeem her terrible performance in Jeopardy! and end up in second place?

As I told you in my earlier post, I did not perform very well in my one and only game. I don’t know whether I was buzzing in too early or too late, but I didn’t have an opportunity to answer many questions at all, and when I did, I made a few stupid mistakes. But I was the only one who had the correct answer to Final Jeopardy and so I came in second. My $2,000 winnings paid for a swell four-day vacation in Los Angeles. My husband and I toured the Sony studio, visited the fabulous Getty Museum and the fascinating LaBrea tar pits, enjoyed looking at the gorgeous houses in Venice and the weirdos at Venice Beach, and had a terrific meal at a Persian kosher restaurant.

Would I do it again? You betcha – although 10 years later the synapses are firing a little more slowly. I don’t get as many answers as I used to, and there are a lot more “ooh, ooh, I know that!”  moments. I seriously doubt that I’d make the cut. Luckily I don’t have to worry about it  –  no one who’s already been on the show can audition.

Answer: Nothing, but it’s made with artichokes and wine which makes me think of California.

Question: What does this week’s recipe have to do with Jeopardy!?

This is a nice recipe that’s great for weight watchers because it’s made with skinless, boneless chicken breasts and has no added fat, and it’s elegant enough to serve for a fancy company meal.

Sabbath cholent is heaven-sent

Brrr…as I write the snow is bucketing down once again, joining the several feet of white stuff already piled around my house. It’s perfect weather for cholent.

Cholent (rhymes with “DULL lent”) is a stew prepared for the mid-day meal on the Sabbath. In traditional Jewish practice, lighting a fire and cooking are prohibited on the Sabbath, which starts at sundown on Friday and lasts until dark on Saturday night.

Slow cooking before slow cookers

In deepest winter it’s hard to go a whole day without hot food. What to do? Creative housewives developed a way to cook a hot-pot type dish at slow temperatures for a long time. That way they could have a hot dish without lighting a fire or putting food on the flame during the Sabbath. In Europe, they called the resulting dish cholent. The first references to it were in the 12th century.

No one really knows where the word came from. The best derivation I’ve seen is that it comes from the French chaud and lent – hot and slow. It could possibly come from shul ende – Yiddish for the end of synagogue services.

In Hebrew they call it hamin, which means hot. North African Jews prepare a similar Sabbath dish called dafina.

In the old days, women would put all their cholent ingedients into a heavy pot and put into a large communal oven, along with everyone else’s cholent pots, to simmer until the next day.

A heavenly scent

With the possible exception of baking bread, there’s no homier smell than cholent! It usually starts to be fragrant in the wee hours of the morning. By the time you wake up, you’ll start salivating in anticipation of a delicious mid-day dinner.

Cholent – called schalet in German – inspired poet Heinrich Heine. In the middle of his long poem Princess Sabbath are several verses extolling the dish, including these:

“But at noon, as compensation,
There shall steam for thee a dish
That in very truth divine is—Thou shalt eat to-day of schalet!

“Schalet, ray of light immortal!
Schalet, daughter of Elysium!”
So had Schiller’s song resounded,
Had he ever tasted schalet,

For this schalet is the very
Food of heaven, which, on Sinai,
God Himself instructed Moses
In the secret of preparing…

If you want to make a cholent, you don’t have to follow the recipe below. Feel free to improvise with ingredients. If you don’t want to use beef, use a turkey thigh or skinless, boneless chicken thighs – you can even make it vegetarian! Use sweet potatoes along with or instead of white potatoes. Use rice instead of barley. I would say the essentials are onions and garlic, some sort of starch (potatoes, beans, barley) and some root vegetables that won’t turn to mush with long cooking. For a vegetarian cholent, substitute vegetable broth for the water to give it some extra flavor.

Some people cook eggs in the cholent. The eggshell turns brown, and the eggs absorb some of the meaty flavor. You can also cook dumplings with the stew.

Plan ahead

For Sabbath (Saturday) lunch, start on Thursday night or early Friday morning by soaking a cup or two of dried beans in a bowl of water. They should double in volume. 

On Friday afternoon, before dinner, assemble the cholent and set it to cook in a slow cooker or in an oven set at 200 degrees.

If your Sabbath is another day, adjust these directions. Cholent would make a great after-church Sunday dinner! Start by soaking the beans on Friday night or Saturday morning.

You might want to check it in the morning to be sure it isn’t too dried out, but don’t add too much water; you don’t want it to be soupy. It should be moist, not wet, and have a nice, brown crust on top.

If you have leftover cholent, it’s good reheated for a lunch or supper. If you eat up all the meat but still have lots of vegetables and gravy left, turn it into soup! Just mash everything up, add a little more water and heat for lunches during the week.

(A confession: the last two times I made cholent I forgot to take photos! So I snagged these photos from the Web — what a wonderful resource!)

Celebrate the New Year Scots Style (With Haggis)

Think “Scottish food” and haggis immediately comes to mind.

It’s a savory concoction of “sheep’s pluck” (the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep) mixed with minced onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices. Traditionally haggis was stuffed into the sheep’s stomach and simmered for several hours. Nowadays, haggis sold commercially is prepared in sausage casing instead.

Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, immortalized the haggis in his 1787 poem “To a Haggis.” And so Scots serve it up on Robbie Burns Day, the poet’s birthday, January 25, with a formal reading of the poem and lots of Scotch whisky. I guess with enough of the Scottish national drink, even Scottish food can be appealing!

I think of haggis at New Year’s, because several years ago my husband and I were in Kilbarchan, a small town near Glasgow, visiting friends of our son’s after Christmas. We were leaving on New Year’s Eve. Our hosts wanted to introduce us to some traditional Scottish fare so they made a haggis dinner on December 30.

(In deference to our dietary needs, they procured a packaged vegetarian version to serve us. It was quite tasty — but it wasn’t really haggis.)

I had thought haggis would be similar to Jewish kishka, a concoction made from beef scraps, fat and matzoh meal that was traditionally stuffed into a cow’s intestines. Nowadays, like haggis, it’s made in a plastic sausage casing.

But kishka is served in slices. Haggis has a looser consistency, more like sloppy joes. It’s usually served with “neeps and tatties” – mashed turnips and potatoes.

Making cheap meat palatable

Both developed out of the same need to use the least expensive parts of the animal in a palatable way.

Perhaps the haggis meat was the portion given to the peasants after the local lord took all the good cuts from the sheep. Other historians suggest haggis was a convenient way for the highland men to take a meal with them on their long journey down to Edinburgh to sell their cattle.

During our haggis dinner, one of the family’s daughters read the Burns poem. It starts out “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face / Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race! / Aboon them a’ ye tak your place / Painch, tripe, or thairm / Weel are ye wordy of a grace / As lang’s my arm.”

You can get a general sense of the meaning in print, but when we heard it read in a genuine Scottish brogue we could barely understand a word. Here is the full poem, with an English translation, from the website of the Alexandria Burns Club. And here it is read on video by David Sibbald.

You can’t get it in the U.S.!

Since 1971, it has been illegal to import haggis into the United States from the Scotland due to a ban on food containing sheep lung. Then all meat from the United Kingdom was banned in 1989 because of the risk of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis, AKA mad cow disease). The general ban was lifted in 2010 – but not the ban on lungs. In fact, you can’t even buy American-grown animal lungs. Since sheep lung is a key ingredient, it’s still impossible to import Scottish haggis.

If you’d like to try your hand at actually cooking a haggis, here is a recipe from Alton Brown on the Food Network’s website. It looks pretty authentic except that it substitutes sheep tongue for sheep lung (to the horror of some Scottish reviewers). If you have a full-service butcher, you can probably get all the ingredients. (And the final snarky comment in the recipe is from the author, not from me!)

The bottom line, though, is that if you want to experience true Scottish haggis, plan a trip to Scotland!

What’s kosher? (Part 2, with beef and eggplant ragout)

The basics of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, were in my column last week (along with a delicious easy recipe for blintz souffle). This is the second part of my introduction to keeping kosher.

Some people “keep kosher” because they truly believe it was commanded by God. Others do it so that members of their family–usually more religious parents or, increasingly, newly religious children–will eat in their homes. Some like the reminder, every time they eat, that they are part of a people with a history going back more than five millennia. Some feel the practice helps elevate the act of eating into something meaningful, even holy.

The vast majority of Jews do not “keep kosher” but some avoid certain inherently unkosher foods such as pork. If you invite someone Jewish to a meal, it’s a good idea to ask if there’s anything they do not eat. (Actually, considering how common food allergies have become, that’s a good question to ask when inviting anyone!)

Hosting kosher- or halal-keeping guests

Strictly orthodox Jews will not eat any food that is not certified kosher and prepared in a kosher kitchen, even if all the ingredients are kosher. Many who are less strict (like me) will eat in restaurants or in non-kosher homes, as long as the food itself is kosher.

If you want to invite a kosher-keeping Jew or a halal-keeping Muslim to eat with you, you’ll probably want to prepare a meal that revolves around fish and vegetables, or find a restaurant where there are vegetarian options or a lot of fish (but not shellfish, a category of food that’s not allowed).

If your recipe calls for chicken or beef stock and you want to use it for a meatless meal, substitute vegetable stock.

For Muslim guests, be sure to avoid using wine or liqueur in cooking and also make sure that there’s no alcohol in any of your ingredients, such as red wine or balsamic vinegar.

Kosher certification

Be careful about using prepared foods in cans, jars or boxes.

Kashrut-observant Jews rely on a complicated system in which religious authorities supervise the production of food products and certify that they are kosher. The manufacturers indicate this status with a “hechsher.” But it’s not that hard to find food with a hechsher.

Sue Fishkoff, in her book Kosher Nation says about one-third to one-half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher. That means more than $200 billion of the country’s estimated $500 billion in annual food sales is of items that are certified kosher. Not bad for a religious group that makes up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population!

The most common hechsher is the one provided by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis: a “U” inside a circle,” commonly called the “O-U.” You probably have many cans and boxes in your cupboard with this symbol without realizing what it means.

Other common symbols include the “O-K” (a K inside a circle), and the “triangle K” (a K inside a triangle).

If there’s a “D” next to the symbol, it indicates the product contains dairy ingredients. A “DE” indicates it was made on equipment that is also used to make dairy foods. A “P” indicates it’s kosher for Passover, a holiday that provides an additional set of dietary demands.

A simple “K” on a product means the manufacturer believes it contains nothing unkosher–but the production has not been supervised by any Jewish organization. This is acceptable to some but not to others.

There are nearly 1,000 known kosher certification symbols from all over the world. You can find an illustrated list here. 

In areas with large Muslim populations, you may see some packaged foods with a “halal” certification.

For an interesting perspective on kosher certification, read this Huffington Post blog by Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller, founder of the Kosher Michigan certification organization.

Last week I shared a kosher dairy recipe, so this week I’m sharing a recipe for meat. This came from my friend Ruth Marcus. She called it “moussaka” but it doesn’t have the traditional béchamel sauce you find in Greek moussaka (because that is made with milk and it wouldn’t be kosher). So I’ve renamed it Beef and Eggplant Ragout. The eggplant disappears in the cooking so it’s a good dish for families with kids who hate veggies. And it freezes very well.

Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage to celebrate the harvest

HOW CAN SOMETHING that smells so awful taste so delicious? I’m talking about cooked cabbage, that cliche of novels and movies of immigrants in tenement houses. Specifically stuffed cabbage, this week’s recipe. I will be the first to admit that the scent of cooking cabbage is not up there with fresh bread and popcorn as an enticing aroma. Cooking it as stuffed cabbage tempers the problem a bit, because you also get the bouquet of cooking meat and tomato sauce. But don’t be put off by the fear of cooking cabbage! The end result is well worth it.

Before the recipe, let me tell you why I am coking it this week.

In the Jewish world we are preparing for Sukkot (usually translated as “Tabernacles” or “Booths”), a lovely seven-day festival (eight days outside of Israel) that is known as “Zeman Simchateinu,” the season of our joy. It starts this year at sundown on Wednesday. The festival has a dual purpose. It celebrates the fall harvest, and it also commemorates the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

Sukkot is a plural word (the singular is “sukkah”) that sounds like “sue COAT.” You might also hear it pronounced in Yiddish as “SOOK iss.” A sukkah can be built of anything—wood, plastic, canvas—but the roof has to be made from plant material without any nails or other metal fasteners—for example wood slats covered with pine branches, corn stalks or reed mats. You should be able to see the sky through it. In Israel, where the rainy season hasn’t yet started and it’s still warm, it’s not hard to eat and sleep in a flimsy hut with a partly-open roof. In Michigan, and anywhere else in the northern part of the United States, it can be difficult, especially when the holiday falls in October as it usually does.

When our kids were younger, they’d often declare their intention to sleep in the sukkah. Fine, we’d say, getting out the sleeping bags, foam pads and flashlights. There may have been a year—maybe two—when a child actually made it through the night. Usually the good intentions lasted until the wee hours of the morning, when they’d slink back into the warm house.

(Care to read more? This week, Debra Darvick is sharing a chapter on Sukkot from her book, This Jewish Life.)

Kid-centered decorations

The kids always enjoyed decorating the sukkah. We’d hang up their artwork and the paper chains, along with plastic fruit (real fruit rots too fast and attracts bees). We were delighted last year when our granddaughter visited from New Jersey and helped her Zayda decorate the sukkah! We add twinkly Christmas lights—bought at deep discount one year in January. We even have some lights shaped like chili peppers that I bought from the Lillian Vernon cataglog. I covet my friends’ lights that are shaped like bunches of grapes.

My friends Mandy Garver and Allen Wolf have a unique collection of plastic fruit in their sukkah. They spent two and a half years in Thailand, as employees for Ford Motor Company, and brought back a nice collection of plastic dragonfruit, jackfruit, durian and other weird-to-us southeast Asian edibles.

Fall harvest foods are popular at Sukkot. These include sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage, a recipe developed by Jews in Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Some call the meat-stuffed cabbage rolls holishkas. My Grandmom Anna, who was born in Russia, called them prockas. This is the way she used to make them.

Tips for making stuffed cabbage

Lots of recipes tell you to boil the head of cabbage and then separate the leaves. This is a mess, because you need a huge pot, and then you have to handle a hot head of cabbage. Others say to cut the leaves off the head of cabbage and parboil them. This is also unsatisfactory, because it’s very hard to get intact leaves off a raw head of cabbage—and then you still have to deal with hot cabbage leaves dripping hot water all over your kitchen.

I have a better way, which I learned from my Aunt Lili. The only drawback is it takes some planning. At least a week before the holiday, buy your cabbage, wrap it well in foil, and stick it in the freezer. After a few days  take it from the freezer and put it in your fridge. A block of frozen cabbage takes a long time to defrost, so allow at least five days! You can speed up the process by defrosting it on your counter, but you’ll still need a day or two. Put the frozen cabbage into a large bowl or deep platter, because a lot of water will seep out as it defrosts.

When the cabbage is completely defrosted, cut out the core and the leaves will just fall away, nice and soft and ready for rolling.


You can see what I mean in this little video. Try to ignore the videographer (my husband) telling me to look at the camera and smile.