Lewis Black had it right; that great untold deprivation that is the Jewish December. Oh sure, retailers have elevated a relatively minor Jewish festival into some kind of separate-but-equal Christmas in order to bring in some of that fabled Jewish money. But no matter how hard some intrepid souls try to turn dreidel into a hip bar sport:
...it's still, as Lewis Black says, just a top. I mean, when was the last time you decided to spend a fun evening at a Jewish pub? And what would you drink there, Manischewitz instead of Smithwicks? Slivovitz? Nothing says Fun Times quite like plum brandy, right? I mean seriously...these are people who for thousands of years have differentiated themselves from those shikker goyinto the point of writing a song about it, you think now we're going to start opening pubs so young hipsters can play competitive dreidel? I hardly think so.
I've been feeling very Jewish this last week. It's not that I've suddenly found religion. It's more that I work in a very diverse workplace, and for our annual holiday potluck this year, we've been instructed to bring in a dish representing our heritage. I like this potluck, it's sort of like being able to cook for a party without having to clean up. So it's a time when I like to actually cook, since I usually get home so late that cooking is out of the question during the week. Usually the potluck means lots of wonderful Indian, Chinese and Italian food, and until now I always brought my Famous Secret Chili, from a recipe given me by -- you guessed it -- a Jewish guy. It's got ground beef, sweet Italian sausage, three kinds of beans, and the secret ingredient -- barbecue sauce. It's always a big hit. But this year I'm determined to do the heritage thing.
The problem is that almost every food from my "culture" is disgusting.
Now when you think Chanukah, you think latkes. How can you go wrong with fried potatoes and onions? Well, you're going to be up at 4 AM frying them, and then they're going to sit around for about five hours until lunchtime, because I don't have access at work to an oven. So scratch the latkes. What about brisket? Brisket is traditional at Chanukah, and very easy to make. Well, I nearly had a coronary after seeing the price tag on enough brisket for perhaps 40 people to have a taste. So scratch the brisket.
So what do you really have, when almost everything else is some shade of brownish-gray. We Jews seem to be famous for pallid food: Gefilte fish. Chopped liver. Kashe varnishkes. Cholent. (Yeah, I know, but that was the site with the best photos. Go figure.) Even when we HAVE food with some color, it tends to be something like borscht. I'm not even going to describe what THAT looks like, other than if you've ever watched a vampire get staked on True Blood, well, yeah, it's kind of like that.
But no -- no crispy samosas or lemon jasmine rice or chicken curry or chana masala or potstickers come out of MY culture. No wonder we tend to be neurotic and depressed. Look at what my people have eaten over the centuries!
So in an effort to try and find something that people would eat, I started perusing web sites, where most of the Jewish recipes are on web sites NOT run by Jews, for some reason. I had thought of a noodle kugel, but I remember when I was a kid, the cognitive dissonance of "noodle" and "sweet" just didn't work for me. So I asked a few selected people, including my Unofficial Office Son, who happens to be an Indian Muslim, and even HE said it sounded strange. One of my sister's friends suggested I go Sephardic on their asses, which opened the door to far more appetizing stuff than the gray foods of the Ashkenazim.
Finally I decided on a carrot tzimmes and karnatzlach, which is something I'd never heard of until now. I knew about carrot tzimmes, and since it's essentially a honey-glazed carrot-sweet potato dish with raisins, I figured it would be pretty, seasonal, and loaded with beta-carotene to boot. Plus, I like to say "tzimmes." Tzimmes is traditionally a Rosh Hashanah dish because it's about a sweet New Year, but since I'm nonreligious and don't live according to the lunar calendar, it fits just fine. Or whatever. The karnatzlach is Roumanian; it's essentially ground meat and garlic rolled into long sausages. The key there is to not make them look like something else that's long and brown, and that's what the parsley and shredded carrot garnish is going to be for.
So long around Tuesday, after a hard day's work, you'll find me in the kitchen, wondering why the hell I offered to do this.
To all of my M.O.T.'s, Happy Chanukah to you, and eat a latke for me.
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