It’s hard to believe that Labor Day weekend is over and Rosh Hashana is fast approaching. Despite the fact, we call it “late” this year, it is now just three weeks away and we have to begin planning in earnest.
I like to start with a check list:
1. invite guests for lunch and dinner
2. make menus
3. make separate lists for butcher, fish store, grocery store, green grocer, bakery (challah, desserts-if you don’t make them yourself), liquor store (you need a lot of kiddush wine for all the holidays-buying by the case usually saves you some money) and florist if you were not blessed with the “flower arranging” gene.
4. arrange for any cleaning/wait staff you might need to help clean, cook, serve during the holiday season
In addition to the check list, let me share a few of my “stress reducing” tips for preparing for the holidays.
Freeze ahead: I usually have about 20 people for Erev Rosh Hashana, 12 for second night of Rosh Hashana and 8-10 for each lunch. Shabbat might also be about 12 more people. Altogether, that’s about 65 meals I have to organize and cook. As I’ve done this for over 40 years, experience has taught me that whatever I can freeze in advance saves me at the end. Any poultry and meat recipes in sauce freeze well; as do all kugels, most soups, cookies and cakes.Cakes should be frozen by layers and frosted the day before or on the same day you are serving them.
Soup/Melon/Salad/Gefilte Fish: When I was growing up, we started most Shabbat and Yom Tov meals with Chicken Soup with noodles, matzah balls or kreplach. Salad was usually served on the side of the main dish. Gefilte fish was not part of our tradition; and continues not to be. My Mother usually had no more than eight to ten people for meals. Somehow, my table often has 16-20 people around it. Serving 20 bowls of hot soup is a daunting task; as well as clearing them off the table. I opt to preset a beautiful slice of Cranshaw or Honeydew melon with a slice of lime at everyone’s place. It looks pretty when people walk in. It’s easier to clear the table. And, last but not least, my guests will have more room in their tummies to enjoy the next course!
Handling the honey: Who doesn’t enjoy that moment of dipping the apple and challah into honey- and then double dipping? Again, as my crowd grew over the years, passing the honey dishes around became time consuming and yes, messy. I went on a hunt for individual serving dishes that wouldn’t take up too much room on the table; and I found Sake cups! Our first batch were yellow and white; then we added some all white ones and finally several years ago, we found glass ones. The honey looks so pretty through the glass as you can see from the picture above. Each person gets their own honey on their bread and butter plate. It’s fun, festive and efficient.
Serving meals: When I was a child, I was taught to serve myself from a platter that someone was passing around the table. I was always so nervous about dropping the serving spoon and fork-but I learned. These days, that style of serving seems to have all but disappeared. Passing platters around the table either by the hostess or wait staff is time consuming and difficult. The first few people who serve themselves see beautiful platters with the food attractively arranged; but the last people who see the platters get a different view. Many years ago, for more formal holiday meals, I began pre-plating everyone’s dinner in the kitchen. I don’t do it all by myself. I either pre-plate one or two to show the people helping me how I want it to look or I draw a picture for them to follow. Doing it this way also helps me attend to my vegetarians and anyone with a food allergy. For less formal meals, I serve buffet style.
Place cards: Don’t laugh. Everyone teases my husband about his place cards. As silly as it may seem, we find that everyone, even those who know each other well, finds comfort in having a dedicated spot at the table. We can track our guests through the place cards (because we recycle the clean ones) and actually count how many years they have been returning for the same meals. It’s at once very gratifying to see how long our friendships have lasted and very sad to find those cards of friends and family who are deceased.
In June, I had my first Father’s Day without my Father. This is the first year I will be celebrating Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur without my Father. These are not the “firsts” that one looks forward to. One of the pictures above shows his place card inscribed AHB. It’s from last year. We have others from different occasions inscribed, Grandpa and Great Grandpa. The place card to his left is inscribed Ana. She is the attendant who has cared for my Father and my Mother over the last two years. This year she will be sitting next to my Mother. The place cards tell a story. We will all sit around the table as families have done for generations. We will think about our loved ones-both family and friends- who are gone; be grateful for those who are still with us; and then we will look towards our children and grandchildren for the future.