By the time Chanukah rolls around, I'll have spent the last three to four weeks cleaning and cooking up a storm for a Thanksgiving feast; planning, decorating, and baking for my daughter's birthday party; volunteering and baking some more for several school holiday celebrations; shopping, preparing and delivering gifts for family and friends; and, of course, working full time. Usually, as I take the menorah out of the cabinet, I am fighting off a cold and longing to the celebrating to end, so I can sleep.
But as a single mom, I have no choice but to dig deep, and find one more layer of energy, and holiday joy, to share with my daughter as she excitedly waits to open gifts, play dreidel, light candles and eat latkes.
I have this wonderful old book, "A Treasury of Jewish Holidays, History, Legends, Traditions" by Hyman E. Goldin. My father must have bought it at one of his cherished used book sale haunts, because on the title page, next to where my mom wrote her name, is the price, written in pencil: 35 cents.
Inside it starts with a 20-year calendar of Jewish festivals and fasts, from 1951/52 to 1970/71. Each holiday section begins with vintage pen-and-ink drawings of observant men in prayer; women preparing food; families at a festival meal; men and boys seated and dressed in slacks, shirts, and ties; women and girls standing, wearing perfectly pressed dresses, and holding platters of food and a smile.
I don't use this book as a factual resource so much as for a cultural one, because even the choice of words, as well as their meaning, reflect the standards of another generation. Under the Chanukah chapter I found sentences such as, "Returning from the synagogue after Maariv [evening] service, the master of the house finds the Chanukah lamp all prepared for the occasion. A holiday spirit pervades the house and all is cheerful and gay." Or, "During Chanukah, after the evening meal, people usually indulge in playing such games as checkers, chess, dominoes, card and one special game known as Kautowes ... arithmetic riddles and puzzles.
I am intrigued by the quaint orderliness of the books' words and pictures, however one Chanukah as my throat burned and my body's center of gravity pushed me down, I found particular relevance in the very first sentence in the Chanukah chapter. It asks, "What is Chanukah?" and answers, "In Hebrew, Chanukah means dedication."
Although the term refers to the rededication of the Temple by the Jews after they defeated the Greeks, I think it is a perfectly modern description for many of us who celebrate the holiday today. Since Chanukah falls during such a busy time of year, celebrating requires a special dedication. Like the Maccabees who were outnumbered, outsupplied and certainly low on energy, we must also work with what we have left to keep this holiday alive.
On the day preceding the first night of Chanukah, I was too tired to make yet another trip to the grocery store for latke fixings, so we had warm bowls of soup, lit the Chanukah candles, and without much fanfare, my daughter opened her first present. But on the second day, I re-entered my kitchen and found one box of instant latke mix and a refrigerator drawer full of apples.
I set a dozen apples on the kitchen table so we could sit while my daughter peeled, and I sliced and cored. We added into the mix a couple of ripe pears and some delicious dried Turkish apricots. Soon three pots holding three different version of applesauce simmered on the stove. My daughter loved the cinnamon smell, and I couldn't wait to feel the warm applesauce on my raw throat.
When we sat down to our latke dinner, late on the second night, three colorful candles were lit on the menorah, the gifts were lined up on an old bookshelf, a bowl of shiny chocolate gelt was on the table, I was wearing wrinkled corduroy overalls and my daughter was in her sparkly embroidered blue jeans. We ate together -- my daughter thrilled with the latkes and excited for the coming dreidel game, and me soothed by the warm applesauce and our modern picture of Chanukah dedication.
Since Granny Smith apples are firmer, they add the chunks to this mixed applesauce as well as a nice tart contrast to the sweeter sauce.
3 Granny Smith apples
2 Jonagold apples
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh
Peel, core and cut apples in 3/4-inch chunks. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, cinnamon, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until some apples softened into sauce and some are chunky. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.
Makes six servings.
My daughter loves pears, so I thought this might be a nice combination. It is sweeter, softer, and darker in color and extra soothing warmed.
2 Jonagold apples
1 Granny Smith apple
2 Bartlett Pears, ripe
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground clove
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh
Peel, core and cut apples into chunks and pears into slices. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, pears, cinnamon, clove, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until apples and pears are soft and saucy. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.
Makes six servings.
Lisa Solomon writes food articles for several publications, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.