Celebrating Shavuot

dualsink.jpg If you peek into the kitchens of most observant Jews you will see a double sink.  Don’t ask me how over 2,000 years Jews took “don’t cook a calf in its mother’s milk” and created a set of rules that necessitates at least two sets of dishes, crockpots, and strainers, but there you have it. 

Meat and dairy products are kept strictly apart under Jewish dietary law.  To ensure that never the twain shall meet, usually one side of the sink will be dedicated to dairy dishes and the other to utensils used for meat.  And that’s where you can learn a lot about how a family likes to eat. 

One of my closest friends uses both sides for dairy.  She likes meat, but she doesn’t like to cook it.  My grandparents only had one sink.  Let’s just say that once my grandmother proudly waved a single spoon in front of my newly married mother’s face shouting proudly “See!  I do have dairy dishes!” Being ever so balanced, my sink usually has a few dishes stacked in both sides. 

dairy-products.jpg When it comes to big holiday meals however, unless vegetarians are involved, most consider meat requisite.  Pasta is great for weekdays, but for celebrations there should be chickens, roasts, turkeys (and soups, potatoes, dessert but nevermind).  The big divide comes at Shavuot. 

For a variety of reasons, Shavout – the time of the giving of the Torah- is a dairy holiday.  Cheesecake, ice cream, stuffed manicotti, anything stuffed with cheese is proudly put on many American holiday tables. 

Coming from a family where half a roast chicken is a good midnight snack, my father tended to balk at my mother’s attempts to put out lasagna and call it a Shavuot feast.  They’ve recounted countless times their honeymoon in Morocco, which happened to coincide with Shavuot, and a specific memorable meal.  Guests sat waiting as the woman of the house brought out a tray of sweetened milk.  After taking a few sips, the milk was exchanged for water. 

dessertpastrytopping.jpgBecause dairy products can be consumed before, but never with meat, everyone rinsed their mouths out with the water and waited again.  A few minutes later, steaming platters of meat and couscous were served.  My father reminds my mother every year that this is how serving dairy on Shavuot should be accomplished.  My butter-aholic mother sighs.

To their credit, they’ve reached a compromise.  Instead of facing a cheese laden, Italian inspired feast, we turn toward Asia.  Garbanzo curries and basmati rice leave us available for copious consumption of a no compromise dessert (my father does believe in ice cream).  

Cheesecakes, buttery cookies, and ice cream are usually reserved for breakfast on holidays in my house.  Since we can’t have dairy desserts after a meaty meal under the rules of Kosher, once a year, for two days, we call them the point.  Maybe one year we’ll serve cream filled desserts before steaks, but until then the main course is just a means to an end.  A delicious, dairy end.         


Most Requested Cheesecake
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Cakes, recipe for “Currant Cheesecake”

Pre-heat oven to 350°F

Mix two rolls of Oreos with one stick of softened butter until there are only small bits of Oreos left.
Push into parchment lined 10” spring form pan.
Refrigerate while you make the batter.

24 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. butter
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs

1 cup raspberries
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Using a mixer, beat cream cheese until soft and perfectly smooth.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. 

Add salt, sugar, and vanilla.  Beat again

Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Stir in the raspberries and lemon zest if desired.

Pour into the crust and shake lightly to ensure equal distribution throughout the pan.

Bake for at least 35 minutes.  It may take up to 50 min.  DO NOT OVERBAKE.  It may have a few light brown spots but will not be brown all over.

Eat straight away with a spoon or let refrigerate at least 5 hours before trying to cut firm slices. 


Sour cream topping is another option.  Mix sour cream and sugar and spread over the top and then brown it in a broiler for 3 minutes.