48 hours after welcoming the Jewish New Year, a two day holiday, the festivities wind down. Marked by specific prayers, it also is the beginning of a ten day period of introspection and penitence.
As it is a 'major' Jewish holiday, families, extended families and close friends gather around the table for what seems like (where I come from at least) endless eating. Celebrations around holidays tend to have more meaning especially as we wish each other not only a happy year, but also wish for peace, health -- and even prosperity.
Brisket and roasted chicken seems to be the standard bearer for the traditional meal not only in many households but also in the minds of the general public. At my table, however, it was Branzini with giganta beans/olives/tomatoes, Cod with roasted red pepper puree, 100-mile Lasagna and vegetable dishes of the early fall harvest. Heirloom tomatoes -- as juicy and meaty as a thick steak -- ratatouille and butternut squash soup, all harvested from Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, graced our buffet. My dear friend Rob (who in spite of all his dedication to speaking Yiddish will always be a 'goy') made brisket up in the country in honor of the holiday. We will exchange leftovers tomorrow.
My mother, who has probably never made a brisket in her life, served turkey, steak and chicken along with mini-hamburgers and veggie-burger sliders, gazpacho, gefilte fish that looked like sushi, micro-greens and an assortment of vegetables. This way each grandchild (from vegan to vegetarian to flexitarian to carnivore) could find something satisfying to eat. The menu was a mix of the old and the new. With little effort, she could become a caterer (as though she were not one already.)
My sisters each had prepared a groaning board of meats, fish, vegetables, fruit and cakes, just in case a small hungry army happened to stop by.
New Years food traditions include dipping apples into honey, symbolic of a sweet year. Adapted by New York foodies, my tradition now includes heirloom apples, organic apples and greenmarket fresh apples accompanied by scores of artisanal honey's -- including Lavendar Honey, Summer Honey, Savannah Bee Raw Acacia Organic Honey, unfiltered, unheated Cranberry Bog Honey, Local NYC Rooftop Honey, San Francisco Bay Area Beekeepers Blend, Rewarewa Honey, Israeli Honey, Pumpkin Blossom Honey, Wave Hill Honey and more.
Love, family, food; so integrally mixed together. "I love you, come eat," was expressed in households around the world. And in this atmosphere of comfort and sustenance, hopes and prayers for the best in the year ahead were spoken.
Everyone was wondering what the year ahead would hold. Almost exactly a year ago, we felt the financial foundations of our world shake. Will the New Year be better, the same or worse? And what about the private struggles that money cannot solve, like health, relationships and personal journeys? And the changes that sometimes we experience in subtle ways -- like a daughter going off to college and the thrill of her walking through the front door to be home for the holiday; seeing parents at the table, aging but with humor and love; and friends who just seem to mean more than ever as time goes by. The holiday brings home quiet moments in our lives that are otherwise jammed with obligations and fast meals.
We did not worry about having enough food on the table. Doggie bags were packed and distributed. And while I thought about all the different foods and the range of customs in households around the world, I really felt that food this weekend could take a back seat. It is a wonderful excuse for calls back and forth, getting or giving recipe advice or long distance menu planning. It brought together generations at the stove or chopping boards. And then, when we are all gathered, it was about taking the moment to look around the table beyond the food and savor life's gifts. The bounty on the table is luscious, but the blessing of family, friends, daily meals and meaningful work, good health and shelter are truly remarkable. It is good to stop and remember that.