Much to Plan on Menu Monday This Tuesday

September 15, 2009 at 8:45 am

Rob Gardner

It shall be a busy week for the Local Family.  We eat the biggest festive meal of the year this weekend in honor of the Jewish New Year.  At least half the effort will be in planning the meal.  Normally I like nothing better than to plan a meal, but the combination of making this dinner special and the various food considerations for the holiday mean it aint gonna be easy.  Although my family is from Ashkanazik or European Jewish background, we like to draw also upon Sephardic or Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions.  After all, what’s more appealing, gefilte fish or Swiss chard.  Between these two zones of culinary influence, we have a ton of things to either consider or work with, depending on how you look at it.  Thus, we have much to plan on Menu Monday (whatever day of the week it falls on).

There’s something we can all agree on, and that’s the Rosh Hashanah meal shall commence with apples dipped in honey.  Towards the purpose of having apples, we went apple picking near Joliet on Saturday.  The proprietor of Apples on Oak had a funny story of buying grafts from a company that went out of business.  All he knew about the apples were their hybrid number.  So, he named the apples after his kids.  Beth’s a good apple.  He also grows some very old heirlooms, a golden permain for instance, but I can say, picking as we tasted or tasting as we picked, that not all of these ancient apples seem worth preserving (hate to say that!).  Needless to say, beyond Beth’s we got a bunch of other apples whose names are descriptions are safely stored on my wife’s i-Phone.  Honey, we got plenty of, but if we need honey, we could buy Chicago Honey Coop honey at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market.

We did buy much grapes at the market.  Another Rosh Hashanah tradition is to eat a fruit or vegetable for the first time of the year.  I had held off on grape buying for a few weeks, hoping this might be our new fruit.  Then, we ate perfume-y little orbs of local at the Carnivale farm lunch, and grapes were not new.  We’ve been munching away ever since.  I’m going to Green City Market on Wednesday, which includes a gala gathering of chef’s and authors, part of the Chef’s Collaborative National Summit in Chicago this week.  I’ll be on the look out for something new to put on the menu.  Paw-paw’s and honey this year?

What about that Swiss chard, green for renewal.  Last year, my wife sauteed a big batch, with sweet caramelized onions and raisins.  This year, I’m afraid our chard course will be a kale course (of course!) as we got kale in the CSA this week, and kale in the CSA last week.  Our CSA box contained eggplants, but they’re not going on the menu as tradition, our mish-mash of traditions at least, forbids black or near black foods, because they say we don’t want any black marks in our ledgers in the book of life.

We do want to be bountiful and enjoy foods that symbolize abundance.  Two foods on the Rosh Hashanah list that do that are beans and pomegranates.  The bean course is usually black eye peas, as beans, what we think of beans now, did not exist in the world of the Talmud.  This is the time of year that fresh black eye peas, and their relatives, are in season.  Last year, we picked up a bushel of crowder peas from a farmer’s front lawn east of Kankakee.  This year, I believe we will rely on Farmer Vicki, one of the few area farmers who grows fresh peas.  And eating black eye peas for new year sounding familiar, well you’re right, and yes it came from us.  Pomegranates are in season now too, just not in season, now, here.  Still, given the 2,000 years of wandering of my people, it makes sense to eat from the areas where we are, and eat from the areas where we have been.  Two years ago, my wife used pomegrantes to great affect to snazzy up a wild rice (local) pilaf.  Where can we sneak this magenta into our meal this year?

Who does not want to start the new year at the head of things, so our teachers tell us to have a head on the table.  Some eat a sheep’s head, but would your Aunt Esther stand for such thing.  I think if Rob Levitt was reading along, he’d find quite the family meal in the works here.  Our head on the table will most likely be a fish head, part of a whole local whitefish from Robert’s.  Instead of broiling that fish (or grinding it), we will likely make a version of chreime, a North African Jewish dish of fish in a spicy oil.

There should be beets on the table, regardless of the name of your web site.  We have enough from past CSAs.  There should be carrots, the color of gold, of prosperity.  In the days of my youth, carrots would have been long stewed with sweet potatoes for tzimmes, but I bet we’ll just grate them into some kind of salad. 

That’s a lot of stuff, and we have not even got to the main course, the protein we say, as we all now know kitchen-speak from watching Top Chef.  I’ll leave that for later, especially after checking in with the freezer stock.  Then, there’s dessert.  Usually, this is more honey and apples.  Any suggestions?

There is much to plan this Tuesday for Menu Monday.