Holiday Goodies

dreidelcandies.jpgI was recently roped I…I mean asked to participate in Canter’s Chanters Chanukah Extravaganza at my Temple. When it was first presented to me, I thought, ‘Great, our Canter is a cool guy and is probably open to doing some improv or something with the kids. That’s got to be why he’s asking me. This’ll be fun.”

But, no. He griped that the kids were positively incapable of doing improv and that was why he prevailed on my services as well as other Temple members who happened to be performers; to write and perform small vignettes that would be done eight times, as eight groups were led through the Temple. The motif was to be “You want to know what Chanukah is all about? I’ll tell you what Chanukah’s all about…”

Each group was to represent one aspect of the celebration. My friend Amy Simon, writer and performer of the wonderful show Cheerios in My Underpants, volunteered to create some sort of wrap-around to feature ‘latkes’.  She had the run of the Temple kitchen and would be making real latkes to give to the kids. Her idea was to create a Bubbie personae.

Dreidels were up for grabs so I decided to take a whack at it. I love games and this is a mindless game much like Yahtzee, only you win pennies or chocolate. 

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hanukkah.jpgIt’s not easy being Jewish during the Christmas season, especially if you’re a kid. Chanukah is great, don’t get me wrong. Presents for eight nights in a row. Lighting the candles and watching them flicker in the menorah until they gradually fade away. And I’m a big fan of the latke. But compared to Christmas? Really?

Imagine, then, what my son Luke had to contend with, growing up Jewish and having an older brother who got to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas while he celebrated only the Festival of Lights. And it was all my fault. I married a non-Jew, had a son with him and got divorced. Then I met my true love (Luke’s father) and created our modern nuclear family. Three Jews and a mixed-breed (sorry, Craig), who marched in a Christmas pageant at his father’s church wearing the robe of a king – the same year he was deep in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Holiday time in our household was always a bit fraught.

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children-with-lanterns-at-midnight.jpgCertain people, I’m told, are particularly susceptible to taking their parents seriously, just as they might be to sunburn, or T.B.  I believe it, especially around New Year’s Eve, when a trio of my Mom’s personal aphorisms begins to clang around my head. 

“Don’t drive after dark: the drunks are out.”  Kinda true, and especially relevant.  Not only do New Year’s Eve activities happen in the dark, but most revolve around drinking.  Plus, this being Los Angeles, I drive wherever I’m going.  Looks like I’m not going anywhere.

“Don’t breathe other people’s exhalations.”  Admittedly one of her more bizarre pieces of advice, but no less applicable.  Parties, by their very nature, are full of people, and people (the unhygienic monsters) consistently breathe.  Best I stay at home.  (And ask my boyfriend to direct his exhalations out an open window.)

“Nothing good ever happens after midnight.”  Forget seeing the ball drop.  I’ll be desperately trying to will myself to sleep at that point, avoiding whatever general “not good” waits around to pounce on people in the wee hours.

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pepperbiscuits.jpgNow you may be asking yourself, "what is a pepper biscuit?" This recipe was my grandmother's original and has been in the family for over 80 years. It's a savory Italian biscuit made primarily of flour, olive oil, black pepper, and fennel seeds. They can be found in many Italian delis and are usually ring-shaped biscuits that have been boiled.

My family's pepper biscuits are baked instead of boiled. When you bite into one, you'll find the texture to be satisfyingly crisp and slightly crumbly. They're all-occasion biscuits too. Serve them as a part of an antipasto. Crumble them into "croutons" for a unique salad topping. Or savor them with a hot espresso or tea.

Pepper biscuits make great easy and inexpensive Christmas gifts too because they can be made ahead. Once cooled, store in air-tight container (preferably tin to maintain their crispness) and keep in a cool area; they should last up to a month.

Even though my mom loves to make pepper biscuits, she prefers when my dad does because he twists each cookie so uniformly. If you're not into twisting, you can also roll the dough into a cigar shape and simply form a circle. They're equally delicious no matter what shape they come in.

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potato crispyny2011 2New Years Eve is upon us. Before kids, the hubs and I would pick a great restaurant, go out with friends, drink too much, and spend way too much money. After several years of that, we switched to cooking an amazing meal at home, made great cocktails, invited friends, and played board games until dawn.

Then we started a family. When Eli was young, we grabbed my parents and made 6p.m. reservations at The Palm. Came home, put on our sweats, and played games. We now bring in the New Year with friends, great food, cocktails, and lots of board games. The kids like to stay up until 12 (I rarely make it) and the evening usually ends with someone else’s kid sleeping here, and one of ours sleeping elsewhere.

This year we are having cocktails with friends. A light snack of cripsy potato skins and a simple “French Blonde Cocktail” to start off the evening. After that, a huge Tripoli match is on tap along with chocolate lava cakes. Let’s just hope I make it until 9p.m. That way I can at least bring in the New Year, east coast time!

Happy New Year everyone. Thanks for filling my year with blessings and gratitude.

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