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Jewish Holiday Food, part one

Jewish holidays follow the seasons. Passover (my favorite Jewish holiday) celebrates liberation and comes at the beginning of spring. We are collectively liberated from winter's darkest days, and we eat asparagus and strawberries, the earliest spring produce in northern countries. Hanukkah (a tiny holiday when compared to that other December holiday, Christmas) celebrates the miracle of indoor light, and an ancient vessel of oil that burned miraculously for eight days. It's the right theme for the winter solstice, when outdoor lights have dimmed throughout the northern hemisphere, and we all need indoor light to keep going. We light candles and we eat food fried that once sacred oil: potato latkes, bursting with fried potatoes and onions, and small, sizzling donuts.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed the High Holidays, the onset of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Considered the most important holidays of the year, this period coincides with the fall harvest, and menus feature apples and honey, harbingers of a sweet New Year, and of course, autumn.

During Yom Kippur, which lasts from sundown to sundown, Jews all over the world ask for forgiveness for mistakes--small and large--committed in the past year, attend religious services all day, and obstain from eating and drinking. (Full disclosure: I limit my food intake so that I am uncomfortable, but I do not fast entirely.) The end of the 25-hour fast is marked by a meal shared with friends and family, the traditional break-the-fast. Most people serve foods that do not require a lot of preparation and can be consumed cold; almost everyone I know has at least one platter of bagels, lox and cream cheese on their table. This year, we feasted on traditional bagels and lox, so delicious and filling after a day of little to no food. I served a salad and corn fritters, wine and sparkling cider. And for desert, I featured sweet little gems of the fall harvest: Michigan plums. I bought these purple beauties at our local farmers' market, and in the afternoon, whipped up the batter for the plum cake. I think all of our lives became just a little sweeter when we devoured it at the end of our meal.

based on Ina Garten's plum cake 'tatin'

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