High Holiday Gatherings: What’s a Family To Do?
Holiday FlavorRecipes

High Holiday Gatherings: What’s a Family To Do?

Families will still get together this year, but maybe spaced out, outside or through technology.

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to www.robynspizman.com.

Marianne Garber with 3-year-old Zadie baking for the holidays.
Marianne Garber with 3-year-old Zadie baking for the holidays.

As the high holidays approach, you might be one of the fortunate families who knows where or even how you’ll be sharing festive meals. In prior years, your plans would be signed, sealed and delivered. For those afar, travel plans would be booked, and family gatherings would be top of mind. As I began writing this article, friends and family members were not yet certain how they planned to celebrate. Most, however, remained dedicated to somehow preserving the family traditions of celebratory meals with family favorites and treasured recipes passed down through the generations.

Some family take-chargers have planned backyard, patio, even garage dinners as front runners with backups. Others are socially distancing, masking guests, with creative plans including renting tents, chairs, tables and more, come rain or come shine. And for families apart by distance, not just socially, a computer or iPad will be the tabletop centerpiece and Zoom dinners will keep them together.

Growing up in Atlanta, we gathered at my grandparents Morris and Annie Freedman’s house, directly across from the Ahavath Achim Synagogue. I’d sit at the picture window as a young child awaiting Grandpa and family members to walk across the street and begin the family celebration. I loved sneaking into the kitchen and tasting a bite or two. Grandma’s cooking was served on the extended dining room table stretched across the living and dining room, covered in fine linens, the good china, silver, crystal, and nothing was spared. Aunts, uncles, cousins and family gathered together. After all, it was the high holidays, a time of reflection, pause, sermon-discussions and family bonding through food. I can instantly imagine the delicious platters of brisket, chicken, tzimmes and delicacies that always pleased, prepared from scratch by my grandmother, who was well known for her Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe found on the package, but then crisped up in the oven with her special magical touch.

Cookbook cover of “I Remember Mamma – A Loving Tribute to Rooks Daniels” by Marianne Daniels Garber

Fast forwarding to the holidays 2020, and the new year cometh. Keeping it sweet and making it memorable will take ingenuity. While the fixings might be on disposable plates and meals packaged individually to avoid sharing, diners will have 6 feet between us, masks, no handshakes, hugs or helping hands from family members. For many, dinners will be delivered, picked up curbside, virtually shared and for those of us who are cooking, it’s certainly a meaningful way to mark the Jewish New Year.

Food has always been at the heart of most Jewish holiday gatherings. Marianne Daniels Garber, whose mother was a remarkable cook, baker of all things delicious, said, “For Mama, food was family. This year we’ll be Zooming with our kids in other cities and social distancing with the family here, with a goal of keeping the family as close as possible, while keeping everyone safe. We will strategically place tables on the deck and pre-plate each person’s meal. From Atlanta to New Jersey to Pennsylvania, we’ll be Zooming our dinner, but always serving Mama’s recipes as the heartbeat of our holiday meals.”

Garber added, “When Mama passed away, I inherited her pans, dishes, and even the wooden bowl for chopping fresh fish for gefilte fish. There was no one to bake all her cakes, so I started baking. When Mama cooked for the holidays, we went to the Fulton Fish Market to get the whole fish for her gefilte fish since she made everything from scratch. Mama was known for her lemon pound cake, which was quite distinctive, as well as the Chocolate Ice Water Cake. Even at holiday bake sales, her cakes would go for $100 and she was a popular baker.”

Garber wanted to preserve her Mama’s recipes and years ago created a cookbook titled “I Remember Mama,” lovingly filled with her mother’s cakes, Jewish holiday recipes and family favorites. The cookbook gives back to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation in memory of her parents.

Handwritten recipe card of Grandma Hattie’s Apple Cake

“Mama’s gefilte fish, light and fluffy matzah balls and big kugel continue as a holiday tradition.” Now, Marianne cooks with 3-year-old granddaughter Zadie, who delights in wearing a chef hat and stirring the batter for the holiday cakes.

Lori Halpern reminisces about her holiday connection to baking through her grandmother Hattie’s Apple Cake. Halpern shared, “How sweet it is to feel this connection with my grandmother through baking. I loved visiting with her as she always took time to bake with me. Every year I always make Grandma Hattie’s Apple Cake and talk about my grandmother while baking it, which helps all of us feel connected to her as well. I actually saved her recipe card with her handwriting and it is yellow from the age of the card. I love that special connection and feel her presence during the holidays.”

The holidays will certainly be different this year, yet keeping close to family recipes, memories and each other reminds us of loved ones from generations past.

Food has the unique ability to sweeten the holidays, with the significance of how the blessing of family, traditions and togetherness have a deeper meaning, now more than ever.

Light Fluffy Matzoh Balls

From the cookbook “I Remember Mama: A Loving tribute to Rooks Daniels,” compiled by Marianne Daniels Garber

Some people like their matzoh balls dense and hard, but we like them light and fluffy. Everyone has their own secret for making them light and everyone worries about whether they will turn out light. This is how my mother taught me to make mine. My brother, Stanley Daniels, says, “But Mama always said the matzoh balls were better last year!” (Of course, being a Jewish mother, she worried that was true of her gefilte fish, matzoh balls and whatever else she made. I now find myself saying the same thing.)

Follow the recipe on the matzoh meal carton except add 1 extra egg white, doubling or tripling the recipe as needed. I make the mixture the night before and refrigerate overnight.

For one recipe, combine amounts as directed and chill:
Matzoh meal
Vegetable oil or rendered chicken fat
Chicken broth, preferably homemade

Boil salted water in a large stock pot. After chilling, the matzoh meal mixture will be stiff. Add 1 egg white and teaspoons of seltzer water or chicken broth until the mixture is slightly loose. Stir well. (This is where the “feel” comes in, the mixture should not be too firm but should just hold together.)

Using a spoonful of the mixture, quickly form the balls. Do not pat them into balls or try to make them perfect, too round or too compact. Just nudge the spoonful off the spoon with your finger into the boiling water. The balls will be irregular in shape and will double in size when cooking so don’t worry about making them too large. The pot should be big enough that there is room for the balls to float to the top as they cook. Usually they start floating to the top of the boiling water within 30 seconds, but you may need to nudge a few resting on the bottom of the pot.

Bring the water back to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes. When complete, remove the balls from the salted water with a slotted spoon and place them directly into the chicken soup. When ready to serve, heat the soup and matzoh balls together.

Momma’s Big Kugel

From the cookbook “I Remember Mama: A Loving Tribute to Rooks Daniels,” compiled by Marianne Daniels Garber.

1 8-ounce package of medium egg noodles
2 pounds cottage cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
1 pint sour cream
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
5 jumbo eggs, blended
1/2 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups crushed Frosted Flakes
1 tablespoon cinnamon, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Mix the crushed Frosted Flakes with the cinnamon and set aside. Cook the egg noodles according to the package and drain well. Toss with a bit of butter or margarine to keep from sticking. In a food processor or with a hand mixer, cream the cheese and sugar. Add the sour cream and blend until smooth. Add the cottage cheese, blending well. (In a food processor, the mixture will be smoother and creamier.) Add the eggs and the melted butter. Combine the mixture with the noodles by hand.

Pour the kugel mixture into a large Pyrex dish sprayed with cooking oil. Sprinkle a generous layer of the crushed Frosted Flakes and cinnamon mixture over the top of the kugel.

Bake for 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Either serve immediately or cool before cutting into squares.

This kugel is delicious and can be made in advance. It freezes beautifully. I often freeze it in small packages of 4 to 6 squares for easy serving at a later date.

The Lemon Pound Cake

From the cookbook “I Remember Mama: A Loving Tribute to Rooks Daniels,” compiled by Marianne Daniels Garber.

We always called this Mama’s famous pound cake because people remember it.
What makes this cake distinctive, besides the flavor, is the pan: It’s made in one long loaf pan (16-by-5-by-4-inches, available from Wilton).

For the cake
4 sticks of butter
4 cups of sugar
10 jumbo eggs
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups of cake flour

For the glaze
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar (more or less to your taste)

Before beginning, prepare the pan by spraying with Pam or greasing with butter. Cut sheets of wax paper to fit the bottom and 4 sides of the pan, extending the height of the pan by about 2 inches.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Cream the butter in a stand mixer on high speed. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer on high, add the eggs one at a time, until well beaten. Add the lemon juice and vanilla until just incorporated. The batter will look a bit curdled at this point.

Reduce the mixer to low speed and gradually add spoonfuls of flour to the creamed mixture. Mix each addition until just incorporated using care not to over beat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, lightly smoothing the top so it is evenly spread. Bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the cake completely before turning out. Gently turn out the cake onto waxed paper and peel off paper; gently roll it over so it is topside up.

In a small mixing bowl, blend the lemon juice into the powdered sugar using a wire whisk. Add more sugar if you want a sweeter, thicker glaze.

Poke holes in the top of the cake with the cake tester and drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake. Enjoy!

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