When I first met Baby's father several years ago, he hugged me and said "welcome to the family." Indeed this was how all of the in-laws reacted; this wonderful, crazy Jewish family has embraced me and welcomed me on all of the high holidays or any other visit. And believe me, it's alot of family. I never had that. Basically, my Catholic parents were only childs and had also lost their parents early. My mother lost her mother when she was born and my father's father walked out on him. Being so welcomed by Baby's family was tremendous to me as my middle brother is rarely able to make the trek home to New Hampshire from Tennessee with my beloved niece--and my oldest brother who lives only about five minutes from my parents rarely has the interest. My cousins always get together over the holidays however and I love being part of that assemblage, but I've always felt somewhat removed, I think because when my Mom and I would visit over Christmas and Easter, it was almost as if we had nowhere else to go. Actually, apart from being with each other at home with my father, we didn't. And I at least felt, before I met Baby, like a lone wolf as my cousins were all married with children and there I was, traveling single-o.
When I made my first schlep to Long Island to celebrate Baby's niece's Bat Mitzvah, that time I first met the whole family, I had a reason to be there. I was with my honey, to celebrate his niece's coming of age. I was, at last, part of a huge family that loved and drove each other wild but cared enough to be together, and allowed me to be part of all of it.
We traveled to Long Island again for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) this past beautiful Saturday, and the Friday night before, Baby made challah bread.* I watched from the wings, but also helped braid. For this holiday, the bread is round, not elongated, to represent the circular nature of life. Our challah was made with four strands of dough, crossed under and over, each end piece braided and tucked underneath to make a perfect loaf, set aglow with a glaze of egg wash and topped with sesame seeds.
At the all-day affair in Dix Hills, our lunch started out around 12 o'clock with a platter of bagels, vegetable cream cheese and lox and incredibly fresh white fish, tuna fish and egg salad, a spread of vegetables and hummus and sweet noodle kugel. I even tried herring with onions and cream in a mid-celebration nosh. Very rich! We also had gorgeous, delicious Honey Crisp apples with honey, as tradition dictates, in hopes of a sweet year. A trip to the Mister Softee truck and requisite naps here and there followed in the lazy afternoon before we all broke bread in the evening over chicken noodle soup with matzoh balls, brisket, mashed potatoes, barley and mushrooms and Schnitz's special chicken with fried onions and Peter Luger's Steak Sauce.
And it's not over yet of course. For Yom Kippur I'm going to try my hand at gefilte fish with fresh beet horseradish to break the fast. L'shana tovah, everyone.
*Here's what we did to make challah bread from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, published by Workman Publishing, with a little more milk and egg yolks to make three loaves instead of two.
2 cups milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 packages active dry yeast 4 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal 1 tablespoon cold water poppy seeds
1. Bring milk, 6 tablespoons of butter, and the sugar to a boil together in a medium-size saucepan. Remove from heat, pour into a large mixing bowl, and let cool to lukewarm (105° to 115° F).
2. Stir yeast into the milk mixture and let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Beat 3 of the eggs well in a small bowl, and stir them and the salt into the milk-and-yeast mixture.
4. Stir in 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you achieve a sticky dough. Flour a work surface lightly and turn the dough out onto it. Wash and dry the bowl.
5. Sprinkle additional flour over the dough and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary, until you have smooth elastic dough.
6. Smear the reserved 2 tablespoons of butter around the inside of the bowl and add the ball of dough into the bowl, turning to coat it lightly with butter. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside to let dough rise until tripled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.
7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut into halves. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces out into long "snakes" about 18 inches long. Braid three of the snakes together into a loaf and tuck the ends under. Repeat with remaining snakes.
8. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with the cornmeal, and transfer the loaves to the sheet. Leave room between the loaves for them to rise. Cover loaves with the towel and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
9. Preheat oven to 350° F.
10. Beat the remaining egg and 1 tablespoon cold water together well in a small bowl. Brush this egg wash evenly over the loaves. Sprinkle immediately with poppy seeds to taste.
11. Set baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when their bottoms are thumped. Cool completely on racks before wrapping. Makes 2 large loaves.