Last year at this time we were sitting in our Sukkah with a few friends when one of them said, “Why isn’t Sukkot everyone’s holiday?”
I remember what we were eating (with commentary):
Venison Lasagne with Wild Mushrooms
(No cheese. Just layers of braised shredded venison and mushrooms and wine layered between thin sheets of pasta I made. I’d bought the venison from a kosher organic supplier in upstate New York. 10 pounds of meet came in freezer pack by Fed Ex. We could have gone to Luques for what that cost, but I have the terrible habit of blowing budgets when it comes to food. Like the poor who still donat to build cathedrals, I believe that what I give to the gods of food will somehow come back to me).
Cinderella Pumpkin Filled with Kale, Canellini, roasted garlic and Roasted Leeks
[beautiful and soupy.]
Roasted Chicken with Meyer Lemon, Garlic and Bay
[The lemon, garlic and bay from our garden].
Salad with Fennel and Pomegranates
[ditto the fennel and pomegranates—from the garden. It was a good year].
Great chunks of fine bittersweet chocolate, figs and fruit and nuts for dessert.
[As I get older, this is the dessert that makes me happiest. Straight chocolate. Seasonal fruit. Cashews and almonds. Hit the imported chocolate section at Gelsons and go for variety: it’s a dessert and a conversation piece. ]
“Why isn’t Sukkot for everyone?” GREAT question. It’s the ideal holiday. You eat outside. You don’t have to go to synagogue, or follow long liturgy. You eat and drink in ahut outside, like 11 year old boys playing secret clubhouse.
The first time my wife and I celebrated Sukkot together as a couple was also the first time I built my own sukkah. That was simply bad planning.
I believe that in the same way Victorian brides were taken aside and offered private instruction on conjugal relations prior to marriage, certain Jewish men should receive a few lessons on the varieties of concrete footing and the purpose of corner bracing.
I grew up in Encino in the Mad Men era—there were many two-car garages, but few sukkahs. Living in Israel, I began to enjoy the holiday for the first time. Jews are commanded to mark the Biblical wandering in the desert by building huts and spending quality time in them. A holiday that involved eating great food and wine outside with friends quickly became my favorite holiday. As for the hut itself, I assumed my Israeli friends did what we in Encino would have done—called a Latino contractor to raise the thing.
I tried to go simple and cheap for my first sukkah. I bought 2-inch PVC pipes and connectors, clipped some banana leaves from a house I drove by on Brooktree, and built what looked like a giant, hairy tinker toy. The weight of the leaves collapsed the whole contraption before I stepped foot in it.
I stepped up to two-by-fours and molded concrete footings, something I either remembered reading in an old copy of The Jewish Catalog, or saw on an episode of Gilligan’s Island. Either way, it was sturdy and sat six and a half people and a pot of homemade green corn tamales comfortably—until someone accidentally backed his chair into a post, and the whole structure slowly, inexorably collapsed to the ground.
Eventually I found a Lebanese Muslim man who sold booths to vendors at the local farmers market. I asked how much something like that would cost for home use.
“For Sukkot?” he asked.
We’ve had that sukkah for a decade now, and I can put it up in less than an hour, provided I control the stopwatch and define what “an hour” means.
The sukkah is swathed in white muslin on four sides and, as per Jewish law, has a roof through which you can see the stars and feel the raindrops.
And that sukkah has become a symbol, a microcosm, of everything I believe Judaism can be: open, appealing, joyous, inclusive.
And an endless parade of great meals.
All Sukkot I’ll post various Sukkot meals I’ve made, along with some recipes.
First, below is the Pumpkin Challah I created that first sukkot, and that I still make today.
Have a great holiday….
Meanwhile, what Burning man and Sukkot have in common: read here.
ROB’S PUMPKIN CHALLAH
2 packages active dry yeast (2 tablespoons)
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 c. canned or fresh pumpkin puree
1 pinch saffron (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast, saffron and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
2. Whisk the oil, 2 eggs, 1 c. mashed pumpkin, saffron, sugar and salt into yeast/water.
3. Gradually add flour, stirring with spoon or mixer paddle. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 7-10 minutes. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. Divide dough in two pieces Roll each into a 3” thick rope. Twist into a snail shape. Place loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Let rise another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.