Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In with the New

---But Not Out with the Old

Yesterday was the official first day of fall, and the Jewish New Year begins at sundown tomorrow.

I’m in the midst of the first draft of a new novel for pre-teens, (a.k.a. MG) and the writing is taking all the pontification out of me. That is to say, I’m in a non-pontifical mode. Readers don’t want to get hit on the head with what they should or shouldn't.

This has spilled over to thinking about Rosh Hashanah, (literally, “Head of the Year”) and the many sermons that accompany it. You’re not going to get one here. Instead, a memory of the Jewish New Year meal from thirteen years ago will have to serve in its stead.

My mother was a permanent guest at our home every Friday and holiday. That year, 2001, the holiday fell on a Monday, less than a week after September 11th. Friends of my father and stepmother were visiting the bay area from Israel, having just managed to leave New York City after flights had resumed. I didn’t know them well, and when they called, I asked them to come for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I figured that, like all of us, they were traumatized and could use some taste of home.

My mother was a Kugel fan. If you haven’t heard of kugel, let’s just say that it is a casserole of cooked-anything-at-all mixed with beaten eggs and seasonings. I had promised her a round kugel for Rosh Hashanah. Round, like all New Year dishes that symbolize the closing of circles.

didn't make kugel often, so I set out to make the best. I had a mother to honor, Israeli guests to comfort, and an urgent need to respond to the disaster that had struck our nation with the perennial Jewish celebration motto: They tried to kill us, we survived, LET’S EAT!
My mother dreamed of potato-kugel. So I grated and seasoned and mixed and mashed, pouring the mixture into a greased round dish and into a 375 degree oven. 
Then it occurred to me- the last time I made carrot-kugel, DH mentioned not once, but twice, how much he liked it. So I grated and mixed and added the cinnamon and brown sugar and to another round dish it went, also into the same oven.

DD came in and asked what I was making.
 “Kugel, for the New Year,” I said.
“Yum. I love noodle-kugel,” she said. Oops. I wasn’t thinking of her favorite. So I boiled egg noodles and mixed in the eggs, apple sauce and the raisins, and into the oven in yet another round baking dish went kugel number three.

It crossed my mind that having something green for the New Year was sort of mandatory. Think harvest, re-growth, life. Zucchini-kugel would have to serve that role. More grating, beating, mixing, pouring. The oven was almost at full capacity.

DS came in. With the resolute expression six-year-olds are so good at, he informed me that he doesn’t eat any of these kugels. In desperation I made the only kind I knew he would: chocolate-kugel. Not very traditional, but it was round and it was going to be irresistible. Think dark-chocolate not too sweet soufflé, only this one stabilized with matzo meal so it doesn’t collapse.

 By then I was ready to collapse. 

Our guests arrived right after my mother. Introductions were made, and they complimented our table. I lit the holiday candles, and DD blessed the round challah. DS said the blessing over the fruit of the vine, (ours-wine, his and DD’s grape juice) and we said SHE-HEH-CHEH-YANU, the prayer of gratefulness for having arrived to this day. It had never meant more.
I opened the oven door and brought out the first. 
“Wow, kugel!” our guests exclaimed.
I went back and brought the second. 
“How nice, a kugel!” the wife said.
I was feeling positively giddy when I brought the third. 
“Ah, kugel,” I heard. It sounded a bit like a sigh.
Not done, I came in with the fourth. 
Another kugel?” said the husband.
I felt positively sheepish bringing in kugel number five. But it was chocolate; the only one DS would eat.
I suspect our guests from Israel thought they really had landed in Oz.


That Rosh Hashanah is now a memory, part of family lore. My mother passed away, and our guests are long gone. My kids have left the nest. It will be one kugel this year, and I will choose. One kugel will have to stand for all the others.

Let’s eat.

16 comments:

  1. This post resonates with me. We all remember, or at least I do, in such detail, the days following that first 9/11. Those kugels and your prayer are such a wonderful memory. Thank you for sharing them. And now I want to make a kugel!

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  2. What a lovely, wonderful memory! I'm amazed at your generosity, creativity, and cooking skills that led you to bake those 5 different kugels! My admiration of you goes even higher. Wishing you a blessed Rosh Hashanah, dear friend. Hugs, Ev

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  3. Mirka, you must write up this story for Highlights. I love it!!!
    L'shana tova and blessings!!!

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  4. What a great story and memory, Mirka! Very meaningful to those of us who read your kugel ms. Happy Rosh Hashanah to you!

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  5. Uummmmm!! Mirka, they all sound delicious. Happy Rosh Hashanah.

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  6. Shana Tova, Mirka!

    Your story made me laugh and made me hungry! It also made me reminisce. We, too, had a big family dinner, complete with the California cousins, in September 2001. Lots of food, but not as much kugel!

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  7. Mirka,
    I enjoyed reading your post! What fond memories and good food! It's making me hungry.

    Mark

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  8. Loved it, Mirka! "Let's eat!" has always been one of my favorite sayings. Now I need to try some kugel. Happy Rosh Hashanah!

    Josh

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  9. What a gorgeous post. It's so lovely that you would make a special kugel for each.

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    1. Thank you for referring to it as "lovely," Marcia. I think the guests thought it was w-a-a-a-y too kugely a meal...

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  10. Lovely and bittersweet. L'Shana Tova my friend.

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  11. How fun, I love the kugel requirement of a "casserole of cooked-anything-at-all mixed..." And to make so many personalized ones is definitely one of the ingredients for making wonderful memories. They sound delicious and I agree this post is picture book (or magazine) material.

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  12. This is beautiful, Mirka! I agree with Vijaya--you definitely need to submit this somewhere!

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  13. That's a great memory, Mirka. One of those stories your children (and Israeli guests) would tell others over dinner. They might have thought you'd gone over with the kugels but it was so sweet of you to consider what every guest would like.

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