Food — Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us

Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us

By Amy Diaz

It started with Festivus.

Festivus, you’ll remember, is the holiday “for the rest of us” created by Frank Costanza, George Constanza’s father in an episode of Seinfeld. When I first saw that episode, I felt a surge of patriotism-like pride. Yes, these are my people, I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Christmas. It is a perfectly lovely holiday that has resulted in many nice gifts. But somewhere around the 100th round of “Do You See What I See” I started to think all the rigmarole surrounding this well-intentioned holiday was well, you know, a bit much.

So I began to consider alternatives. Hanukkah always seemed like a good deal — fewer carols, more nights of celebration. But, as my mother often pointed out, while a substantial wing of my father’s family is Jewish, our immediate family was not.

Which is why Festivus seemed like such a genius invention. No particular religion seemed to be connected to the holiday and it involved, as far as I can remember, a family gathering, an aluminum pole, the annual Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength.

Sadly, with the exception of a tasty but short-lived flavor of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Festivus never really seemed to catch on.

Enter Chrismukkah.

The Origins of Chrismukkah

Chrismukkah is, in many ways, the opposite of Festivus.

While that Seinfeld creation backs away from any serious connection to the major winter holidays, Chrismukkah runs to embrace them.

Chrismukkah was created by Seth Cohen, the hunk of geeky hotness played by Adam Brody, on the cheeserrificly addictive Fox drama The O.C. (OK, technically, I guess Chrismukkah was created by Josh Schwartz, the show’s creator, but for the purposes of this article, I am going to pretend that The O.C. and all the people in it are real. As Summer would say, deal.)

Seth’s mom is the WASPy Kirsten Nichol Cohen (Kelly Rowan) and his dad is the eyebrow-tastic Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher). Seth, the socially awkward but otherwise smart-cookie offspring of this union, brings the cultures of his people crashing together, resulting in a mish-mashed holiday with multiple gift opportunities and a giant evergreen in the living room.

Catching the Chrismukkah spirit

How do you celebrate Chrismukkah?

Well, last year, Seth celebrated it by seeing his future former girlfriend dressed up as Wonder Woman. But what about the years where that doesn’t happen?

I was mulling this puzzler over while thumbing through a variety of publications food sections the week before Hanukkah. Recipes for a variety of rugalah and challah passed by as I tried to consider what kind of food a California family, half-Jewish, half-Protestant, would eat for its special, fictional-holiday meal. Not just Jewish cuisine had to be considered but also those special California touches (more vegetables, maybe pine nuts). And then there was the Nichol family, led by Kirsten’s father Caleb. Where were they from before they were prominent members of O.C. society?

I’m sure there are countless dedicated fan sites that have dissected the show and its characters into sub-atomic parts and could give me, based on carefully sifted-through evidence, accurate answers to all my questions. But, forget that, I’m just going to guess.

Oklahoma.

The Nichols family was originally, way back, from Oklahoma. Or someplace in the South. Or someplace in the North that appreciated southern cooking. (I could give you my hypothesis based on the history of migration to California and the effect the Dust Bowl and Depression of the 1930s had on who ended up in the Golden State, but that seems a little too involved for this kind of guesstimating.)

In any event, I had hit upon a way to construct a Chrismukkah menu — fuse Southern touches to Jewish cuisine and give it a California spin.

My first hybrid item — sweet potato latkes (yes, I know I didn’t, like, invent that concept but it fit my framework). Then I remembered an article I had seen about Eastern European flat breads and consider the ways I could both country- and coast-ify the product. Once I started considering the salad options I knew what had to be done — I had to have a feast.

I was going to celebrate Chrismukkah.

Chrismukkah feats of strength

A few things you should know.

Feasts are usually enjoyed over several hours because nobody can get up from their chair after spending that long stirring and rolling and kneading and chopping. Even my meager three-course, six-item feast ended up costing more (at least $60 for two people) and taking considerably longer (about five or so hours) than expected.

Sure, I used some of the rising time for the bread as an opportunity to dice, to chop and to learn how to use the food processor. But bread doesn’t take that long to rise and everything seemed to need the oven at about the same time.

The first thing I learned about preparation of such a meal is to actually make a shopping list before heading to the store — no, you will not “just remember” what you need.

The second thing was to start at least  two hours before you think you should start. I began cooking at about 4:30 p.m. with the idea of sitting down to Chrismukkah dinner at about 7:30 p.m., 8 if I ran into trouble. After spending longer than I expected frying the latkes in groups of three and more time than I realized peeling and grating the sweet potato, I finally put plate to table shortly before 10 p.m.

Which brings me to the third requirement for such an undertaking — extremely patient family members.

All told, however, the meal worked out. Jewish cuisine and Southern cuisine share quite a few commonalities — chicken, starchy vegetables, the occasional use of savory and sweet in the same dish, no fear of using cheese or butter. And the California touches — lemon in the chicken, fresh herbs, more vegetables and the tangy lemon-ginger dessert — helped to balance out some of the heaviness and brighten up the flavors.

And, yes, I did use nearly every dish, pot, pan, utensil and measuring implement I own but somehow, the dishes were cleared without too much hassle and, because that much food could have easily feed six people, we had leftovers to last for days.

Ah, a Chrismukkah miracle.

Chrismukkah: The recipes

Spinach salad with matzo croutons

1 bag of baby spinach leaves

1 red pepper, washed and chopped into one-inch bites

1/4 cup California blue cheese

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice of one lemon

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups of matzo croutons (see recipe below)

In small bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.

Place baby spinach leaves in large salad bowl. Add chopped red pepper.

Add a small amount of the cheese.

Slowly, add a small amount of dressing to salad. Toss salad and add more dressing to taste. Add vinegar or oil in small amounts to adjust flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle on remaining cheese.

Add matzo croutons. Toss lightly and serve.

Matzo croutons

Prepare matzo ball according to instructions on matzo meal or matzo ball mix box. In place of vegetable oil, add garlic oil to mix and add 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper to recipe (or more to taste).

After making matzo balls and cooking in water for 30 minutes, remove for water and let dry slightly in paper-towel-lined bowl.

Grease a cookie sheet. Break up matzo balls into teaspoon-sized pieces. Place on cookie sheet. Spray matzo balls lightly with olive oil spray and sprinkle with pepper and salt.

Cook in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, periodically checking to turn matzo pieces.

When outside of pieces become crisp, remove and sprinkle over salad.

Green bean kugel

2 pounds of uncooked fresh green beans, cleaned and snapped

8 ounces of cottage cheese

1 cup of pepper jack cheese, grated

1 egg

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 red pepper, chopped fine

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

An additional 1/2 cup of pepper jack mixed with about 1/4 cup matzo meal.

In large bowl, mix cottage cheese, pepper jack, egg, garlic, red pepper, salt and pepper until thoroughly mixed. Then, slowly stir in beans, being sure to coat each one with egg/cheese mixtures. When all beans are mixed in, pour into large glass baking dish. Press flat into dish.

Sprinkle with pepper jack/matzo meal.

Bake for about an hour in a 350 degree oven until cheese on top starts to turn golden color.

Sun-dried tomato and basil pletzlach

Very loosely based on a recipe for onion flat rolls by Rebecca Peltz that appeared in the New York Times on Dec. 1, 2004.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup oat bran

2 packages yeast

5 tablespoons of light brown sugar

1 cup lukewarm water

1 large egg

1/4 cup of light olive oil

1 2 ounce package of sun-dried tomatoes, soaked and diced

1 bunch of basil leaves, torn into small pieces

2 cloves of garlic, minced

salt to taste

Place flour in bowl and make a well in center. Pour 1 cup of lukewarm water. Stir in yeast and two tablespoons of brown sugar and lest sit for 30 minutes.

Add egg, 1/4 cup oil and the rest of the sugar. Mix well. Turn dough into greased bowl, cover and let rise for one hour. Knead again, briefly, and let rise for 30 more minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the diced sun-dried tomatoes, basil, about two tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic. Add salt to taste.

Once dough has risen, divide in quarters, then divide each quarter into three pieces. Form each small piece into a ball and then roll out (into circles a little smaller than your palm and about an inch thick) on a floured surface. Sprinkle the top with the tomato-basil mixture and then roll with a rolling pin again until about 1/4 inch thick.

Place circles on slightly greased baking sheets which have been sprinkled lightly with ground pepper.

Bake for about 20 minutes (until tops are golden brown) in a 350 degree oven.

Paprika-spiced sweet potato latkes

Very loosely based on a recipe that appeared in New York Cook Book by Molly O’Neil, Workman Publishing Company, 1992.

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and grated (by hand or in a food processor)

1 Spanish onion, puréed

3 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup matzoh meal

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place grated sweet potatoes in a colander over a large bowl and pour in pureed onion.Let sit for a few minutes to allow juice to leak out.

After completely drained, put sweet potato and onion mixture aside.

In large bowl, mix eggs, matzoh meal, salt, paprika and pepper. Mix together then add sweet potato and onion mix to the bowl, thoroughly covering with egg mixture.

In a large sauté pan, carefully heat about 1/4 inch of oil on medium high heat (or as hot as you can safely get it without smoking or popping). When oil is hot (sizzles with a drop water), carefully spoon three or four wooden spoonfuls of batter into the oil.

Cook pancakes (which look a little like orangeish, round hash browns) for about 4 minutes on each side and place on a plate line with several paper towel (to drain oil) once cooked.

Lemon & basil marinated chicken drumsticks

Basil

Juice of one lemon

Lemon, sliced and chopped in half

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

Thaw and wash drumsticks, carefully loosening but not removing skin.

Grease a large glass baking pan with olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour in about half the lemon juice.

Place two to three basil leaves and two lemon half-circles inside the skin of each chicken drumstick. Pull skin back into place to hold basil and lemon close to skin.

Place in pan.

Sprinkle with salt and remaining juice and let marinate for at least 30 minutes or longer in refrigerator.

When ready to cook, carefully heat about 1/4 inch of oil on high heat (as hot as you can safely get it without smoking or popping) in a large sauté pan. When oil is hot (sizzles with a drop water), carefully place drumsticks, one at a time, into the oil. (A large sauté pan can hold about four drumsticks at a time.)

Cover and cook for about 8 minutes. Uncover, turn drumsticks on opposite side, and cook for another seven minutes. Turn again and cook for six minutes, removing when all juices running from chicken are clear.

Serve with skin on and garnished with a fresh basil leaf and lemon wedge.

Ginger and lemon sundae

Gingerbread ice cream

Lemon sorbet

Gelt

In dessert bowl, place one scoop gingerbread ice cream, one scoop lemon sorbet and garnish with unwrapped gelt.

- Amy Diaz

 
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH