With the flurry that surrounds a b'nai mitzvah celebration, we often lose sight that this day -- this passage from childhood to adulthood -- will be one of the most meaningful memories of his or her life.
The memories will not be of the buffet table that boasted an ice sculpture replicating a Torah or a humungous Jewish Star comprised entirely of chopped liver. And the noisy dance floor crowded with unfamiliar gussied-up guests will become a blur lost to time.
What we want a bar or bat mitzvah to remember most is the outpouring of love from those who watched as the child read from the Torah and listened to the positive intentions he or she outlined for their life. And most of all, we want a child to re-live the sense of accomplishment that results from this achievement.
Then why do we feel compelled to host a no-holds-barred celebration that, to quote Rabbi Gil Marks, "is often all bar and no mitzvah?"
To challenge this trend of pleasing business acquaintances and long-lost cousins, rather than honoring the bar or bat mitzvah, many parents are planning the Saturday night party with, rather than for, their child, so that it is more personal, more creative and more reflective of what will make him or her the happiest.
Whether the child wants a noisy bash with a DJ at the synagogue, a make-their-own-pizza party in the family room or a casual beach party roasting kosher dogs and burgers with friends, let it be filled with an abundance of amusement but a fraction of the flash.
But for the Oneg Shabbat, give your child the unique experience of creating a unique menu built around favorite foods. A few rules: no burgers, no kosher dogs, no pizza -- and no deli.
Otherwise, the sky's the limit. But, because I am the proverbial Jewish mother, here's one very delicious suggestion: What child doesn't covet lamb chops?
If you're worried that lamb chops for a crowd of hungry b'nai mitzvah-goers might get expensive, consider sandwiches of boned, butterflied and marinated leg of lamb, sliced thin and then piled between pieces of rosemary or olive bread spread with Dijon mustard and accompanied by arugula.
Choose a variety of his favorite salads, some cold asparagus sticks and, for dessert, strawberry tarts.
For colorful, healthful side dishes, let your child select favorite cut-up vegetables among carrots, celery, jicima sticks, tricolored bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, baby corn, broccoli and cauliflower. To accentuate their flavor, offer dressings of Thousand Island and vinaigrette and dips of olive tapenade, hummus or baba ganoush.
For a sweet life, set out platters of fresh fruit -- sliced melons, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, mango and bowls of berries. And include a favorite after-school treat of sliced apples, pears and bananas with peanut butter and honey.
With your child, test the proposed recipes -- from salads to dessert. Then when you're both pleased, type up the recipes and invite your friends to play a special role in the Oneg Shabbat.
You are role-modeling friendship, generosity and a sense of community -- qualities better shown than spoken. As a bonus, you are strengthening bonds, proving the paradigm, "It does take a village to raise a child."
Given the opportunity -- and a little guidance -- your child can experience yet another accomplishment. Let your bar or bat mitzvah take the first step into adulthood with a healthy, delicious menu that has been specially created for his or her guests.
Baby Greens With Pansies and Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Edible flowers are grown specifically with no pesticide or dangerous chemicals. Be sure to use only flowers cultivated in this way.
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed blood-red orange juice
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, red wine vinegar
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, cold water
1/3 cup dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups nut oil (hazelnut, walnut or pecan)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon orange zest
Place all ingredients, except oils and zest, in blender. Blend for 30 seconds. Remove mixture, stir in oils and zest, whisk to form a smooth emulsion.
3 pounds field lettuce or baby greens
3/4 cup fresh mint, torn into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup fresh basil, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cup pansies or other edible flowers
3/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups croutons (optional)
Place greens, mint, basil, sunflower seeds and croutons, if desired, in bowl; toss with dressing and sprinkle with pansies.
Makes 24 servings.
Butterfly of Lamb Sandwiches on Rosemary Bread
Remove all sinews and visible fat from lamb. Place lamb and marinade in large Ziploc bag. Let sit for at least four hours or overnight.
Let meat come to room temperature before grilling. Place lamb on grill about six inches from coals. Cover grill, let lamb cook for 15 minutes. Turn lamb over, cook until desired degree of doneness. The internal temperature should read 140 F to 145 F.
Remove to carving board. Cover with foil; let rest for five minutes before carving.
3/4 cup sherry or Madeira
2 1/4 cups orange juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
12 cloves garlic, finely chopped or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
12 pounds leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
Combine marinade ingredients and pour into saucepan. Heat on low flame until flavors are thoroughly blended, about 45 seconds. Allow marinade to cool.
2 packages dry yeast
2 cups tepid water (90 F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1 tablespoon kosher salt
In electric mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in water until it starts to work.
Add sugar, oils, salt, three cups flour; process for 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough leaves sides of bowl. Using either bread hook or your hands, knead in remaining flour until dough is smooth. Allow it to double in size and then punch it down. Divide in half and roll out each section to half-inch thick.
Combine garlic and olive oil; paint top of dough generously. Sprinkle on rosemary and salt. Roll into a jelly roll, pinching down sides. Put into two greased loaf pans. Let them rise until they double in size. Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes. When it's sliced, it should look a pinwheel.
Makes two loaves.
Sandwich Garnish Suggestions:
2 cups arugula, well washed and dried
Fresh mint, chopped fine
Thinly sliced red or yellow tomatoes
Thinly sliced Bermuda or other sweet onions
Thinly sliced cucumbers
1 quart mayonnaise
1 pint Dijon mustard
To make sandwiches, slice bread thin and pile it artistically on a platter. Provide bowls of mayonnaise mustard, mustard, horseradish, chutney, chopped mint, mint jelly and platters of cucumbers, sweet onions, tomatoes and arugula.
Guests will be creative with which spreads they choose and which vegetables they select to accessorize their sandwiches. You or your child can demonstrate ideas of delicious combinations, such as: Spread lightly with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Place a piece of arugula, lamb a few garnishes and then another piece of arugula.
Makes 24 servings.
Crisp Asparagus Sticks
Spring asparagus is so tasty it needs little accompaniment.
3 pounds baby asparagus, with spears peeled and tough ends trimmed
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
Fill a large skillet with salted water to within an inch of the top. Bring to boil; add asparagus. Simmer uncovered four to five minutes until firm tender. Pierce with point of paring knife to determine doneness. Plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking.
Dry on paper towel; toss with lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil, if desired. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. It will stay fresh for several hours.
Makes 24 servings.
Strawberry Brown Butter Tartlettes
Adapted from "The World of Jewish Entertaining" by Gil Marks (Simon & Schuster, 1998).
Shell (Pate Sablée)
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs or 6 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
Ice water as needed
2 1/4 cups sugar
12 tablespoons flour
12 ounces margarine
6 pints strawberries, stemmed but left whole
3/4 cup currant jelly
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups mint sprigs, stem removed
To make the pastry: Beat margarine and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg and salt.
Gradually blend in the flour. (The dough should have the consistency of a sugar cookie. If it is too stiff, add a little ice water.) Form the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one week.
On a lightly floured piece of wax paper, roll out the dough to a one-eighth-inch thick round about two inches larger than an 11-inch round tart pan.
Fit dough into tart pan and run a rolling pin over top to trim edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (The shell can be refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to three months.)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line bottom and sides of shell with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, pressing against the sides. Bake until pastry is set, about 10 minutes.
Remove weights and foil and bake until pastry is lightly browned, about 10 minutes more. Let cool on a rack. (The tart shell can be prepared a day ahead, covered, and stored at room temperature.)
For filling: Mix together eggs, sugar and flour in bowl. In saucepan, brown butter, stirring with whisk until golden and smells nutty (do not burn). Whisk into flour mixture. Spoon into tart pans; smooth it over. Decorate tart with strawberries in circular pattern. Top with glaze.
For glaze: Place jelly and sugar in saucepan. Cook on high heat stirring with wire whisk until jelly breaks down and turns into syrup, about two minutes. While glaze is still warm, paint strawberries with soft-bristled pastry brush. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.
Makes three 11-inch tarts.
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