On the Jewish food scene: Planning meals for the holidays

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

My first reaction to the e-mail that arrived in late August was to ignore it and click delete. Well, actually that was also my second and third reaction. You really want me to think about what I’m eating for the holidays more than a month before they begin? I’m not sure what I’m having for dinner tonight.

Let me put my refusal to plan menus in advance into context. When I suffered from allergic colitis in the 1990s, I had difficulty eating. (Yes, I realize that might be hard for friends I’ve made since then to believe, but, during that period, there were many times I had no desire to eat anything.) I dealt with this by planning ahead. The deal with these menus was simple: If I had an appetite, I could eat whatever I wanted. If I didn’t, I had to make and eat what I’d planned.

Fortunately, my colitis went into remission, but then I was faced with a blood sugar diet that strictly regulated when and what I could eat. The diet was supposed to prevent me from losing more hearing. Since this was before I needed hearing aids and a cochlear implant, you can see how well that worked. What did result is a revulsion for planning more than three or four meals ahead. (To give you an idea of the difference: I used to plan a minimum of two, if not three or four, weeks ahead.)

Another factor is that I’m not a fan of cooking elaborate meals. Low and slow for five hours? Forget it! An hour’s worth of prep time? Not a chance. It also doesn’t help that, while I now eat foods with sugar, I still can’t use a recipe that requires me to put sugar in a dish. Somewhere along the way, I also stopped using salt in my cooking. (Yep, I’ll never succeed on “Chopped.” I’d be dinged for not enough seasoning.) Memories of indigestion from holiday meals in the past make it easier to resist fancy cooking. When cooking for myself, I’ll opt for something simple. This is not a problem because, for me, food is not the point of the holiday.

This long rambling account explains why I’m dreading all the e-mails I’ll be getting from Jewish websites during the next month or so: they’re going to be filled with links to hundreds of recipes suggestions for the upcoming holidays. Sometimes I do actually look at them. But seriously think of making them? Ha, that makes me laugh. I know folks who obsess about their menus because cooking is one way of showing love to your family. I get that: I do enjoy feeding other people when I am not too tired to cook. But please spare me the 45 ways to cook chicken for Rosh Hashanah or the new must-try-way to make brisket. I’m just not interested.