Have you spent this year of COVID retreat cooking to stay sane? The winter holidays are no exception. Maybe you can’t invite Auntie and Uncle this year. Don’t despair. You can still cook and bake to your heart’s content and freeze half for next year. Here are a few traditional treats for the season.

If you live in an interfaith family you’re doubly lucky: Celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah which begin at sundown December 10th then Christmas Eve on December 24 and Christmas Day on the 25th.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration bringing the light of clarity into the world and freedom from servitude under harsh rule. It reaffirms the ideals of Judaism and commemorates in particular the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in the Second Century B.C., and the victory of the Maccabees overcoming the powerful Greek-Syrian army. Rejecting the Hellenistic life, which worshiped Greek gods, a small band of Jews fought to keep their traditions and culture alive.

Hanukkah celebrates a miracle with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts. Eight candles are lit one each night of the festival because in ancient times the oil from one lamp lasted eight nights while the Maccabees purified and rededicated the Holy Temple. Though not strictly speaking a religious holiday, Hanukkah in America has taken a place similar to Christmas. Kids are given gifts and chocolate coins “gelt” the German word for money. That harks back in history to when the charity donations meant for orphans were confiscated from the Temple by the Syrian ruler in order to pay taxes to the Romans.

Hanukkah Foods

Jews live all over the world, from Columbia to India to Ethiopia. You can find Hanukkah Zengoula (Iraqi funnel cakes) Sfenj (Moroccan doughnuts) Bunuelos (Sephardic sweet fritters) Gulab Jamun (South Indian doughnuts) Polish Apple Cake. Keftes de Prasa (Spanish Leek Fritters) Frittelle di Chanukah (Italian honey and fruit fritters) S’mores Sufganiyot (American variation on Polish-Israeli filled doughnuts). Many of the most traditional Hanukkah foods are fried to honor the oil that lasted eight days. In New York you are likely to enjoy East European potato Latkas during this season whether or not you are Jewish.

Latkas

Crispy, delicious, and fattening, fried Latkas are the essential Hanukkah food.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds potatoes
  • 2 onions (peeled)
  • 3 large eggs , lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 to 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup olive oil (for frying)
  • Garnish: applesauce or sour cream for serving

Peel and grate or food process the potatoes and onions and set the potato aside in cold water so they do not turn brown. In a large bowl, pour the potato mixture and add the beaten eggs, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Add enough flour so that the mixture holds together.

Pour 1 inch of oil into a large, deep frying pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Carefully drop 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the hot oil. Flatten the pancake slightly so the center will cook. Repeat with additional batter, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry them until golden brown and place the cooked Latkas on paper towel to absorb excess grease. Serve immediately with apple sauce or sour cream.

Nuevo-Hanukkah

If you don’t care a fig for tradition, a younger generation has come to your aid with some whacky, tasty new drinks for Hanukkah, including treats such as “Flaming Jew” a cocktail made with Rum, cinnamon schnapps and Tabasco.

Or try this, an outstanding single malt Scotch Whiskey matured in American white oak ex-bourbon casks and finessed in rare and aged oloroso sherry casks. Volume: 70cl ABV: 40% The Flavor Profile: The Aroma: Citrus fruits, chocolate and aromatic spices. On the Palate: Seville oranges,.

Christmas

Speaking of holiday drinks, there is Christmas Wassail. Remember the 12 Century English Christmas carol that begins, “Here we come a Wassailing. . . ?” Though the exact origins of wassail is unknown, in England it was an Anglo-Saxon greeting (“waes hail”) meaning “be in good health.” This simple greeting gradually evolved into a toast. And finally the punch beverage of mulled cider, wine and spice became known as wassail and it was served in a huge bowl known as the wassail bowl.

Though many Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ the Savior, hopefully online this year, the holiday has also long been a feasting time. Most people don’t bother to make Wassail and Plum Pudding, which are famously featured in “The Christmas Carol,” but we can enjoy the following simplified versions.

Wassail

Wassail is enjoyed alone or pared with sweet fruit and nuts snacks and with dessert-type sweet fruit-based baked items like apple pie, cherry tarts and even beignets. Here are two recipes, one made with red wine and the other without alcohol.

Red Wine Wassail

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 bottle (750-ml size) red wine

Boil the water, honey, cloves, and cinnamon for five minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lemons, and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Add the wine, a full bodied, ripe and spicy Cabernet, and heat slowly until just below the boiling point. Serve hot.

Non-Alcohol Wassail

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups apple cider
  • 2 cups orange juice (or optional cranberry grape juice)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 4 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole cloves or 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat and continue simmering for 45 minutes. Ladle into cups or mugs and enjoy!

Plum Pudding

Tiny Tim would jump for joy seeing this. Don’t be intimidated by Plum Pudding (AKA Steamed Christmas pudding) just because it comes from the Merry Old England of our great great grandparents. A simplified version is basically a steamed carrot cake with added canned plums. The fancy part is the lovely shaped baking pan and Christmas decorations placed around the pudding serving dish.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) plums, drained, pitted and chopped
  • 1-3/4 cups chopped dates
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup dried currants

Hard Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark rum or orange juice

Generously grease an 8-cup pudding mold, metal gelatin mold or ovenproof bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients: bread crumbs, flour, orange zest, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, salt and cloves; gradually add this to the creamed mixture. Fold in the drained plums, dates, raisins, carrots and currants.

Transfer it to the prepared pudding mold. Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil; tie the foil with kitchen string to secure.

Place it on a rack in a large stockpot on the stove; add 3 inches hot water to the pot. Bring the water to a gentle boil; steam the cake, covered, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. That takes 2 to 2-1/2 hours, adding more water to the pot as needed. To remove the pudding from pot, let it stand at least 5 minutes before un-molding.

The Hard Sauce

In a bowl, beat the hard sauce ingredients until smooth and creamy. Unmold pudding onto a serving plate; serve it warm with the sauce.

This has been an incredible year of tough challenges and grief. End it with sweet foods and hopes for a brighter future, a new beginning. Set your aim to improve health and wellness as a holistic nutrition coach at www.academyhealingnutrition.com The benefits last a lifetime.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.