How Froot Loops Helped Me Create a Culinary Connection to the Jewish World
Since both my parents were converts to Judaism, my family didn’t have any Jewish recipes to pass down. So I created my own.
At these gatherings, kasha varnishkes and mandelbrot share the table with pineapple-filled kugel and flourless chocolate cake, each brought by a very different Jew to the only apartment with a table big enough to hold us all. And the dishes I bring express a mutant Judaism that fits me perfectly. I try to recreate the gorgeous, nostalgic texture of my godmother’s matzo balls, but I add parsley to the dumplings themselves—a twist I learned not from my godmother or my nonexistent Jewish aunts but from an episode of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa. Or when I make charoset, I grind walnuts and dates, mix in apples and honey, thus combining the Ashkenazi (chunky, with apples, walnuts, honey) and Sephardi (ground fine, with dried fruit) approaches to the symbolic—and now especially delicious—dish.
These days, I feel most Jewish when I’m making carrot ring. In part that’s because I learned how to make the deliciously savory cake from my godmother. (It’s not right unless you get some knuckle blood in the batter, she explained, enjoining me to only ever grate the carrots by hand and leaving the kosher status of human blood unexplored.) But mostly it’s because today I make it for holidays with friends. In a strange way, actually, I identify with the cake. Out of ordinary ingredients—carrots, flour, shortening, sugar, salt—comes something that, with only a little bit of time and a table full of friends, feels comfortably, perfectly Jewish.
Judaism is so much about the past, about telling stories in order to remember: plagues, destroyed temples, droughts. And it’s also, of course, about looking forward with hope and resolution into the future. “Next year in Jerusalem,” after all. What I’ve found, though, is that Judaism is also about what happens between before and after, in the satisfying fullness of the now. My Judaism gets expressed and experienced in small moments—grating carrots, mixing batter, simmering matzo balls, sitting around a table, tasting honey on my tongue—as much as it does in the grand sweep of time.
And looking back on my little boxes of Froot Loops and thimble cups of Manischewitz, I realize it always has.
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Whatever holiday you’re celebrating, put romance on the menu by taking some advice from everyone from Maimonides to Dr. Ruth