Sukkot is one of the more awesome holidays of the Jewish calendar.
It's a week-long festival celebrating both the autumnal harvest and the forty-year wandering period in the desert following the Exodus. Traditionally, one eats meals in an outdoor booth made of branches, a sukkah. Tradition and Jewish law also requires prayer with the four species: palm branch, myrtle and willow bound together and called collectively a lulav (which is also the word for palm branch) and an etrog (citron in English). Nowadays, the Orthodox still follow the traditions fully, but most non-Orthodox - myself included - only participate in some of the festivities.
I've eaten twice in the sukkah at the University's Hillel (institutional), and I'm going to do the lulav-and-etrog thing either tomorrow or Tuesday. I don't have my own, so I'll borrow a friend's, or use communal ones at a synagogue in the neighborhood. Lulavim and etrogim are expensive.
Why do I like Sukkot? Well, there are several reasons. Firstly, the commandment to be happy is an awesome thing. Sukkot is a holiday of joy, of warm feelings and exuberant singing, of celebration and enjoying the most basic facet of life: the change in seasons. Secondly, eating outside can be quite an experience. Al fresco dining not only allows you to simultaneously experience breezes and bread (or, like Friday night, damp and bread), but also makes you appreciate the fact that most of the time, you eat indoors, shielded from things like wet. And jacket-wearing during dinner.
My prayer group threw a little party for Sukkot today. Originally it was going to be baked goods and games, but it ended up being baked goods and bonding. My friend Sharon and I made two of my recipes:
1. Lokshen-kugel, or noodle kugel. It's a Jewish traditional casserole. Think bread pudding, but replace the bread with noodles, and add cream cheese. My maternal grandmother's recipe is great.
2. Apple cake. Sharon had gone apple picking yesterday, and apple items are always awesome. My paternal grandmother has an idiotproof recipe for apple cake that requires few ingredients and zilch effort.
The party, though small (only about 10-12 attendees) was a success. Most of the group regulars came, along with some of my other friends (which was awesome). The baked goods were a success (kugel is a wonderful, wonderful thing), so I'm posting the recipes below. The gathering was really a celebration of what Sukkot is: enjoying the (for once, beautiful - this is Chicago) autumn weather and being happy with those around you.
Chag sameach - Happy Holidays.
adapted from my maternal grandmother's recipe
Note: I tend to eyeball measurements while baking. Adjust as necessary.
~10-12 oz. egg noodles (I recommend a thinner cut)
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
2 c. milk
1 c. flour
3 oz. cream cheese, softened (leave it out for say, an hour or so before using)
a handful of raisins (optional)
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1. Cook the noodles until al dente. You do not want them to be too soft; they will soften as they bake. Drain, rinse and set aside.
2. Preheat your oven to 375F. Butter a cake pan, a shallow 13x9 pan will do.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until consistent. Add the sugar, milk, and flour, (and cinnamon here too) and beat until you have a thin batter.
4. Mix in the cream cheese and beat until the cream cheese is in small bits throughout the mixture. You may need to use a whisk to cut the cream cheese if it's stubborn about softening.
5. Place the noodles into the pan. (Mix the raisins in by hand if you add raisins.) Spread evenly on the bottom of the pan.
6. Ladle the liquid-cheese mixture into the pan and press it into the noodles. The noodles should be soaked, but not submerged in the fluid. If you need more liquid, beat an egg, some milk and sugar together.
7. Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes, or until only cream cheese residue and some moisture comes out with a toothpick. The top should be crisp; it's awesome to have a few burned noodles.
Easy-as-Fuck Apple Cake
Adapted from my paternal grandmother's recipe. She does not call it this. This recipe is something I have never measured for, so the measures here are a guess.
Chopped fresh apples (I recommend using sweeter apples. Cut as you wish, I like thin disk-like slices)
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
2 c. milk
1. Preheat your oven to roughly 375F. Butter a pan. (13x9 and shallow-ish will do.)
2. Spread the apples at the bottom to cover the floor of the pan. The number of apples you'll need depends on the apple you use.
3. Mix the flour, sugar, milk and eggs to make a thin batter.
4. Pour over apples to cover.
5. Bake until the top of the cake is golden, and a toothpick comes out clean. That should be around 35-40 minutes, but possibly longer.