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How a Bit of Jewish History Resulted in a Culinary Obsession August 15, 2013

Cooking was not my thing.  Everyone knew it.  No one questioned it.  If it didn’t come in a can or a microwaveable package, it was out.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t cook (at least that wasn’t the prevailing opinion) so much as that I wouldn’t cook.  It took too much time to prepare a meal and, while I wasn’t as inept as my father who had once tried to make stew by intentionally failing to dilute soup concentrate with water (a recipe for a sodium-induced heart-attack), it was generally assumed (at least by me) that my skills were lacking.

This all changed, however, when a course on Old Testament history led to a fascination with the Jewish feasts.  I admit that the messianic imagery in each celebration intrigued me and it wasn’t too long before I decided to share my enthusiasm with my family through the only rational means: food.  Borrowing a copy of Faye Levy’s 1,000 Jewish Recipes(a gift I had given to my mother years earlier), I set about selecting a menu for the upcoming holiday of Purim – the celebration of the Jewish deliverance from Haman as recounted in the book of “Esther”.

To say that it was faintly ambitious is a bit of an understatement.  With multiple courses including corned beef (which I would be “corning” myself) and an attempt at pastry in the form of “Haman’s Hats”, the outcome was less than assured.  (I had watched for years as my mother had worked to create the “perfect” pie crust and was under no misimpression that “light and fluffy” was the result of accident or chance!)  Still, the day came and I entered the kitchen with an unprecedented level of confidence and determination.

My mother had once observed that cooking was like chemistry; just follow the directions (within a certain margin of variation) and the result will at least be edible.  Not surprisingly, Mom’s observations turned out to be correct.  I measured each ingredient with unparalleled precision and, when I finished, I had created a feast of culinary delights.  The entire house was flooded with the aroma of a true Jewish feast… or at least as true a feast as could be made in my non-kosher kitchen.

Unfortunately, in my effort to ensure flawless “mixing magic”, I had failed to take into account one other vital meal-planning skill: timing.  As dinner time approached, I became increasingly aware of the fact that I had forgotten to figure preparation time into my cooking times (math was never my strong suit).  While the dishes all smelled wonderful, not all of them were hot (or finished).  I quickly alerted my family to the difficulty and received a pass.  (I think they figured that if the food was edible, it didn’t really matter if the meal was an hour and an half late and served one dish at a time.)

On the whole, my Purim feast was quite a success (the demands of my family that we forgo reading the traditional text in favor of avoiding starvation, aside) and I walked away having proven the old saying that “timing is everything.”  Oh, and I made one more valuable discovery: I LOVE to cook!  The Purim meal was just the start of my culinary adventures and my family has now been introduced to everything from Indian food to homemade sushi.  All this just goes to prove that a little history lesson can result in a globe-spanning adventure!


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