Yom Kippur is one of those holidays that makes me think about food. It's not supposed to do that, of course. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and it's a holiday that should get you thinking about confessing, forgiving and making things right: Making peace with the people you love; reconciling your feelings for the people you used to love but don't anymore; making plans to be kinder to your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues; and eventually, forgiving yourself, even if you've made some mistakes that you shouldn't necessarily be forgiven for.
You're not supposed to eat on Yom Kippur and there are many reasons for that, but I think the main one is that when you fast, your feelings are heightened. Your stomach grumbles and you think a lot. You think about the things you said that you wished you could take back, the people you complained about or ignored, the events you skipped, the games you only half-watched, the invitations you tossed, the comments you rolled your eyes at. My neighbor Laura K.s father says that the only thing that separates us from the animals is the way we mourn and celebrate. That means showing up for weddings, funerals, commencements, Communions and bar mitzvahs. When we don't, Yom Kippur offers a chance for repentance. Alone with your thoughts and your hunger, you can think about correcting the situation. With fasting, comes forgiveness. When you're sitting for long stretches of time on a wooden pew in the same place with a prayer book in your lap, listening to the cantor sing and the rabbi speak, you end up (metaphorically) in a different place. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you end up in a place of peace.
That all sounds very high-minded so I'll just confess right here that I often end the day thinking about how famished I am and wondering how many calories I've burned fidgeting. Around 4:30, I start to wonder when I can go home, heat up the casseroles, make a pot of decaf, take the platters of lox, white fish, tuna, egg salad, herring and chopped liver out of the basement refrigerator, set them out on the dining room table and wait for company to come. Thank God, they do. Friends, relatives, and neighbors gather around the table at the end of the day, exhausted, hungry and grateful for a wide range of things, one of which is that the fast is over.
I love a good break fast. We started hosting them years ago when I realized they were a quick and easy way to have a dinner party. I'd order cold platters of bagels, fish, and cheese the day before the holiday, let the guests bring fruit and dessert, and call it a day. Then, eight years ago, my friend Wendy and I got puppies within a few weeks of each other. We started spending time in her backyard, talking about food and kids while the dogs played. One morning, she started describing her mother's challah soufflé. She said it was really easy and gave me the recipe. It was easy and my husband and kids loved it, so ever since then, I've been cooking that, along with other casseroles and kugels, for break fast. I don't make anything fancy or low-cal and I don't make anything that can't be made or frozen several days before. You won't lose weight eating any of these dishes but at the end of a fast, you're thinking about expanding your belly, not shrinking it.
Last year, the day before Yom Kippur, my neighbor and I went for a morning run. We started talking about what we'd been talking about all week: What we were making for break fast. She said she'd bought a huge piece of salmon at Costco. Did I want half? I sure did. She offered to marinate it first. Bring it on, sister.
After our run, I went to pick up my younger son from school and while I was gone, my neighbor let herself in the back door and left a dish of marinated salmon in the refrigerator. I broiled it for five minutes on each side. It was one of the most delicious pieces of salmon I've ever eaten hot, and was even more delicious the next day, served cold at break fast.
The hot challah casserole and cold, marinated salmon are both easy, make-ahead dishes. You don't have to fast or be observant to enjoy them. No matter when or why you eat them, they will always taste divine.
Laura K.'s Marinated Salmon
Salmon (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Combine moist ingredients, and then add garlic powder. Marinate salmon for 2 hours. Broil for 5 minutes on each side.
Wendy's Challah Soufflé
3/4 pounds cheddar cheese, sliced from the deli
3 cups milk
1/4 pound melted butter
12 slices stale challah
Beat eggs; mix with milk and melted butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cube challah and lay half the cubes in a greased baking dish. Layer some of the sliced cheese on top. Alternate layers of cheese and challah. Pour milk/egg/butter liquid over challah/cheese. Cover and let set overnight in fridge. (If you don't have time for this, you can also cook it right away.)
Bake uncovered in a preheated 325-degree oven for 45-60 minutes. It should be golden brown and only slightly wet.