By Beverly Levitt
It’s a cliché that a bride will remember every detail of her wedding. So why is my bridal shower a blur?
Aside from receiving some Baccarat crystal I registered for, it wasn’t a life-altering event.
Fast-forward to 2000, when I stayed up all night with my religious sister-in-law while she explained the concept of mikvah, the pool of living water in which a woman submerges to cleanse herself spiritually and physically. Since ancient times brides have observed this purifying ritual before getting married.
The ritual is illustrated in Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent,” which demystifies the female heroes of the Bible and illuminates the beauty of their rituals and the power of their camaraderie.
I have often thought how meaningful it would be to host a wedding shower in a mikvah, such as the year-old Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah, which took inspiration from Boston’s Mayyim Hayyim, a mikvah Diamant helped found.
In a phone call from her office in Boston, Diamant said women are holding such showers.
“The mikvah is being reclaimed and reinvented,” she said. “Nonaffiliated, nondenominational mikvahs are being built all over the country, but women are also seeking out bridal shower settings in nature — next to a river, a lake, an ocean — and in more accessible places — health spas, swimming pools or hot tubs.”
In Diamant’s book “The New Jewish Wedding,” the author describes how the Sephardic custom of turning mikvah into a joyful party has inspired new rituals and celebrations.
“One bride arrived at the mikveh with five friends and a basket of food and wine, and while she immersed in the water, they waited in the foyer,” Diamant writes. “When she appeared they greeted her with songs, champagne and her favorite sweets. … Another group of women gathered in a swimming hole, made a circle around the bride, and then all immersed themselves. When they came up for air, they wished that the water would wash away her self-doubts. They finished by praising her abilities, talents, and her beauty. At another gathering, shower guests anointed their ‘wedding queen’ with gifts of scents such as lavender and myrrh.”
“There are many ways to bestow a bride with blessings,” Diamant said. “You can give her favorite recipes, share advice and stories about marriage. Some women might want to write stories for the bride or even create a memory book.”
Diamant likes reinventing the established practice for a wedding shower because it creates an opportunity for greater meaning. “Entering the water is a reference to birth,” she said, “and coming out new or cleansed is a rebirth, getting ready for a new cycle of your life. It’s a moment of transcendence.”
Because the wedding shower honors the cycles of life and the holy concept of no beginning and no end, our menu and our floral decorations and gift suggestions will be round, signifying that a husband and a wife are two parts of one soul. The perfect circle appears over and over in nature, from the seed, which is the beginning of life, to many of the most beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Gifts can be round soaps, sponges, candles, crystals and rocks, and, to heighten the mood, round DVDs of beautiful music. Edible round gifts include chocolate truffles, cookies, cakes, biscuits, muffins and breads, cheeses and cheese balls, and fresh and dried fruits, such as apples, oranges and pomegranates.
For beautiful circular floral decorations, start with roses, peonies, dahlias, daisies, camellias, chrysanthemums and gardenias — the list is endless.
To honor the cycles of life, we offer a menu of round food.
Roasted whole fish is presented head to tail, as in the sign of Pisces, signifying long life. Fish is a token of wisdom, fortune and fertility. Serving a whole fish exemplifies righteousness, and the garnish of ruby-red pomegranate seeds and syrup is a wish for a sweet marriage filled with fertility.
We’ve included leeks for luck and opulence.
The fish is complemented by baby potatoes, beets and a fennel bulb.
A cheese ball is encrusted with round hazelnuts. Angel eggs are stuffed with truffles and caviar. Eggs are a symbol of birth and potential.
The M’hancha pastry, which is formed out of phyllo dough and coiled around and around like a snake, is a symbol of spiritual power and the awakened self that originated in North Africa. It also represents sexual energy.
The best part of hosting a wedding shower that honors but reinvents ancient rituals and is filled with the camaraderie of women is that it can’t help but be a life-altering event, even if the bride doesn’t receive all her Baccarat.
Angel Eggs With Truffle Oil and Caviar
1 dozen pasture-raised eggs with dark-orange yolks
1-2 drops white truffle oil
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
Golden caviar for garnish
Hard-boil the eggs and let cool for 20 minutes. Halve the eggs and remove the yolks to a mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk, whip the yolks with truffle oil, dill, curry powder, salt and pepper. Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture into the egg halves. Top with caviar.
Adapted from Terry McNally, co-owner of London Grill in Philadelphia.
Cycles of Life Branzino
2 whole branzino, salmon or steel trout, head and tail intact
1/3 cup white wine or water
¼ cup thinly sliced onions or leeks
1 whole fennel bulb, including fronds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon dried herbs, such as tarragon, rosemary or thyme
Fresh leaves or sprigs of tarragon, rosemary or thyme for stuffing
2 lemons, sliced into wedges for stuffing and garnish
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the fish in roasting pan with wine or water. Place the fennel fronds, herbs, leeks and lemon slices inside the fish. Add dried herbs to the olive oil and brush over the fish. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the skin is crispy and the meat is opaque. Leaving the herbs, leek and lemons intact, place the fish on a serving platter, head to tail. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges and pomegranate sauce.
Makes 1 cup
½ cup pomegranate syrup or molasses
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup water
Pinch of sea salt
In a medium saucepan over low heat, mix the pomegranate syrup or molasses, lemon juice, water, and salt. Simmer until a syrupy sauce develops, 8 to 10 minutes. Add a bit of sugar if too sour or more lemon if too sweet. Drizzle the sauce over the fish.
Adapted from Terry McNally.
Salad of Roasted Beets, Multicolored Baby Potatoes and Watercress
Makes 6 servings
For the dressing:
¼ cup good sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup hazelnut oil
¼ cup good olive oil
For the salad:
12 multicolored baby potatoes
12 baby beets
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In an oiled baking pan, roast the potatoes and beets for 30 to 40 minutes until soft. Remove the peels from the beets.
Whisk together the vinegar, shallots, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. In a slow stream, add the oils, whisking constantly until the dressing is emulsified.
Place the watercress on a platter. Arrange the beets and potatoes into a circular design in the middle of the platter. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the salad, then drizzle with the dressing.
Adapted from Terry McNally.
Blue Cheese Ball Encrusted With Hazelnuts
Makes about 2 cups
8-ounce package cream cheese or cashew cheese, room temperature
8 ounces blue cheese such as Blue Costello
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon
2-3 tablespoons roasted hazelnuts
In a medium bowl mash together the cream cheese, blue cheese and cream. Fold in the chives and tarragon. Chill in the refrigerator until the mixture begins to firm, about 30 minutes. Using your hands, shape the mixture into a ball. Artfully place hazelnuts on the ball to coat completely. Refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.
M’hancha: The Serpent
For the almond-pistachio filling:
1 cup cold blanched almonds
1½ cups cold pistachios, peels removed
¾ cup sugar
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon rosewater or orange blossom water
Egg whites from 2 large eggs
6 ounces almond paste
For the pastry:
½ pound phyllo pastry leaves (if frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar for garnish
In a food processor, chop the almonds and pistachios until finely ground but not oily. Transfer the mixture to the work bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle. Add the sugar, butter, rose or orange blossom water, egg whites, and almond paste. Beat until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured board, make a long, snakelike roll out of the almond-pistachio paste, about 1 inch in diameter and 3½ feet long, or make 2 shorter rolls. Place a 4-foot strip of wax paper on a long table. Brush lightly with the butter. Lay sheets of phyllo dough going the long way, overlapping by 2 inches, to make a strip about 4 feet long. Brush each layer lightly with the butter. Repeat, starting in the opposite direction, until all the phyllo has been used.
Place the nut roll about 1 inch from the front edge of the paper. Fold the ends of the phyllo over the nut roll, then roll up tightly to form the snake shape. Gently form the snake into a coil, working from the outside in. Transfer to a buttered, 9-inch cake pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove the pastry from the oven and flip it onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake again until well browned, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then dust with the powdered sugar. May be stored at room temperature for three to four days.
From cookbook author Aliza Green.