Growing up, religion never played a major role in my life, except, perhaps when it came to holidays. My parents were raised in religious households: my mom had a Lutheran upbringing; my dad, a Jewish one. We tended to celebrate all of the major holidays, which, in my memory, all centered around food, family and togetherness: Easter and Passover, Christmas and Hannukah, and my all-time favorite, where religion plays little part, Thanksgiving.
For my dad, nothing was more exciting than the pageantry of Christmas: the ornaments, the fir branches over the mantle, the tree, his luscious made-from-scratch buche de Noel (Yule Log) and his practically-perfect-in-every-way ribbons on the gifts.
My mom was “stuck” with the major tasks of food planning, prepping and creating for each holiday. My dad was enlisted to do the gopher shopping runs, as in “go for” this, “go for” that.
Mom painstakingly leafed through old copies of Gourmet, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Martha Stewart’s early works, Peg Knickerbocker’s foodie temptations, and other miscellaneous recipes she gathered, saved and referred to year after year, many splattered with kitchen stains — making them even more near and dear to my heart, since these were the winners.
To this day, my mom’s brisket is a thing to be admired. How is it possible that it tastes even better every time she makes it? I think, perhaps, the ritual of gathering to celebrate with the food we all enjoy makes it taste all that much better.
The rich mishmash of traditional foods eaten to honor certain religious holidays still hold the fondest of memories for me. My dad’s chrain (home made horseradish) at Passover paired with my mom’s brisket are most likely what I would request for a last meal were I ever to be in that unfortunate position of having to choose.
Even though I work in this wacky world of food, it is the one thing that brings us all together to sit down, enjoy each other’s company and accomplishments, and to create memories for our children which they, in turn, will share with their children — we are definitely a family that lives to eat and not one that eats to live. In that way we are fortunate, holidays or not.