JewishBoston.com: Shamefully Simple Tzimmes

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

tsimmes, photo used under CC license from Flickr user Edsel LittleTzimmes is an Ashkenazi specialty generally associated with Rosh Hashannah due to its sweetness. There are as many variations on tzimmes as there are Jews, but the common threads are that it’s a sweet dish made from carrots and whatever else you want to throw in. A common version is “tzimmes with flanken,” featuring short ribs to add a meaty savor.

Tzimmes has a reputation for being a big pain in the neck to make — so much so that the phrase “to make a tzimmes” is synonymous with “to make a big deal” out of something. But my family’s recipe is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing to call it a recipe. Even so, it’s delicious and is always a hit when served at holiday meals and potlucks. Better yet, it freezes well and reheats even better.

And since my tzimmes relies on sweet potatoes, an autumnal vegetable if there ever was one, it’s perfect for Sukkot, our fall harvest festival. But honestly, I serve it year-round.

2 large (29 oz.) cans of cut sweet potatoes or yams
2 15-oz. cans of carrots (I like canned whole baby carrots)
1 frozen kishke, thawed (feel free to substitute vegetarian kishke)
Maple syrup and cinnamon, to taste
Optional: raisins, prunes or other dried fruit

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Drain most of the liquid out of the cans of vegetables, then mix the vegetables in a casserole dish. If you’re including dried fruit, add it now. Add liberal amounts of maple syrup and cinnamon. Toss to coat. Slice kishke, laying rounds across the top of the casserole to cover. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the kishke is browned and the casserole is bubbling.

Tzimmes photography used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Edsel L.

JewishBoston.com: High Holidays 101

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are collectively called the High Holidays (or, alternately, the High Holy Days). The entire 10-day period is referred to as the Yamim Noraim (literally “Days of Awe”) or Aseret Yamei Teshuva (“Ten Days of Repentence”).

Rosh Hashanah 2013 begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 4, and ends at dusk on Friday, September 6. (Some Reform synagogues observe only one day of Rosh Hashanah.) This year, we will be inaugurating the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. The number comes from an understanding of the age of the earth articulated by sages in the Middle Ages.

created at: 2011-08-22Rosh Hashanah combines our joy at reaching another milestone with the solemnity of reflection about the year we’ve just completed. We eat sweet foods (such as apples dipped in honey) to emphasize our hopes for a sweet year. We alter our challah to be round (like the cycle of the year) and dotted with raisins (more sweetness), and have celebratory meals with friends and family. But we are also called upon to make an accounting of our souls (cheshbon ha-nefesh in Hebrew). We figure out what we might need to ask our friends to forgive us for doing and make resolutions to try better in the coming year.

Other Rosh Hashanah traditions include sounding the shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn, which serves as a spiritual wake-up call. Tashlich is a practice of tossing breadcrumbs into a moving body of water to symbolize throwing away our sins.

The period that begins with Rosh Hashanah and culminates in Yom Kippur is known as the Days of Awe, or the Ten Days of Repentance. Some use this time for deeper reflection–check out 10Q for an online tool for focusing your thoughts during this period. Tradition sets up Yom Kippur as a deadline for making amends with those we’ve wronged, so this period can also be a time of reaching out and asking forgiveness.

Yom Kippur 2013 begins at sundown on Friday, September 13. The evening service that opens Yom Kippur is often referred to as Kol Nidre, after the prayer said at the beginning of the service declaring that we are all fit to pray together, saints and sinners alike. This prayer’s emphasis on religious vows reminds us that on Yom Kippur, we can use a day of fasting and prayer to make right with God, but wrongs done to other people need to be addressed directly.

Fasting on Yom Kippur is supposed to allow us to fully concentrate on the meaning of the day. The sages described the Yom Kippur fast as not only abstention from food and drink, but also from sex, bathing and anointing (e.g. perfumes). Only those in good health and over the age of 13 are expected to fast. Fasting at a time that could put your health at risk is forbidden.

Whether you’re planning on spending three days in synagogue, hosting or attending a holiday meal, or taking this time of year to focus your thoughts about the year that’s passed and the year to come, JewishBoston.com has resources for you. Visit our Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur page for information about services, recipes, our High Holidays Idea Guide and more.

JewishBoston.com: Pomegranates: Not Just for Trendy Juice Drinks

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2010-08-06A few years ago, the pomegranate exploded on the food scene as the in fruit of the moment. From the juice aisle to the bar, it was hard to avoid the bright red color of the pom.  Oprah even declared the Pomegranate Martini as one of her favorite drinks!

Although it’s as difficult to prepare as it is to spell, the flavorful seeds and much-hyped health benefits of the fruit have brought it into the mainstream. Naturally, there’s now an official Pomegranate Council promoting all these benefits and more on behalf of the California farmers who produce pomegranates in the USA.

created at: 2010-08-06But it turns out the mainstream was just catching up with something Jewish tradition already knew.  We’ve held the pomegranate in high regard for quite a while — since the time of the Bible, in fact! Pomegranates have been a feature of Jewish art as well as cuisine for generations. In fact, the adornments some synagogues place on the handles of Torah scrolls are even called rimonim in Hebrew — that would be “pomegranates” in English!

Pomegranates have a particular connection to Rosh Hashanah. According to About.com:

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a “new fruit” – meaning, a fruit that has recently come into season but that we have not yet had the opportunity to eat. When we eat this new fruit, we say the shehechiyanu blessing thanking God for keeping us alive and bringing us to this season. This ritual reminds us to appreciate the fruits of the earth and being alive to enjoy them.

A pomegranate is often used as this new fruit. In the Bible, the Land of Israel is praised for its pomegranates. It is also said that this fruit contains 613 seeds just as there are 613 mitzvot. Another reason given for blessing and eating pomegranate on Rosh HaShanah is that we wish that our good deeds in the ensuing year will be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate.

created at: 2010-08-06

I remember back in my Hebrew School days participating in an activity with my classmates where we tried to count all 613 seeds of the pomegranate. It was messy and not entirely successful, but fun enough that I remember it more than two decades later.

This year, I learned that there’s also a mystical connection between the pomegranate and Rosh Hashanah – it’s one of the simanim, or good omens, that Jewish superstition associated with loading the odds in our favor for a good year.  We’ll have more about the simanim in an upcoming blog post.

Do you have a favorite recipe for enjoying pomegranates?  Please share it in the comments below!

Pomegranate photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, used under the GFDL license.

Torah photo by Dan Simhony.

Postage stamp photo by Karen Horton.